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Hearing protection in construction still lags, says labor safety leader (2/28)

February 28, 2011
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Scott Schneider, director of occupational health and safety for the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America, a non-profit associated with the Laborers’ International Union of North America, representing about 500,000 primarily construction workers, kicked off his presentation saying, “I don’t know how much progress has been made in the past 30 years with hearing protection in construction; I’m on the discouraged side. We are so far behind general industry practices.”

“We have tried to do what we can in construction in the absence of OSHA regulation covering construction site workers,” he said.

“My sour note is unfortunate,” Schneider said, but most construction workers do not receive annual audiograms, and hearing loss is very common but unrecognized on building sites.

This is what needs to happen, he said: lower the OSHA permissible exposure level for noise to 85 dBA; refund the EPA Office of Noise Control and Abatement which has had no budget for 30 years; perhaps offer tax incentives for implementing quieter equipment (he said NASA has done an excellent job in installing quieter equipment); and put noise reduction labeling on quiet equipment, as is done in Europe.

With its proposal to reinforce the use of engineering controls to reduce factory noise levels, “OSHA did put noise and hearing loss back on the radar screen,” said Schneider. “I don’t think OSHA is going to walk away from this issue. (OSHA chief) Dr. Michaels is tuned into the widespread problem of hearing loss and wants to do something about it, he said. But he needs political allies, he added.

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