Missouri Work Accidents Often Impact Lungs, Hearing

March 5, 2012,

281294_hearing_protection.jpgIn 2011, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have developed two guidance documents (one for employers and one for employees) that describe the use of spirometry testing. OSHA recommends that workplaces utilize these tests to help reduce and prevent exposure to respiratory hazards, which can cause serious work injuries in Missouri and throughout the country.

Spirometry is a common pulmonary function test that is used to measure the efficiency of air flow in a person's lungs. The inhalation of contaminants (such as dusts and gases) can - over time - cause some serious lung damage or even lung cancer. These documents present a number of ways that employers can identify and eliminate these types of work hazards. Elimination of these contaminants can help to prevent lung disease in workers.

If you work in a contaminant-high environment, our Missouri workers' compensation attorneys urge you to take this test as soon as possible: spirometry can detect changes in breathing, alerting you to lung dysfunction at an early stage. Employers are required by law to ensure the safety of their employees to the best of their ability. If an employer fails to protect a worker from a known hazard, they are responsible.

"Spirometry is the best available test for early detection of decreasing or abnormal lung function," said Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. "Our joint effort with NIOSH in developing these products will help broaden outreach and enhance knowledge of preventive measures aimed at protecting worker health and safety."

Monitoring workers' lung function can help identify problems sooner rather than later, so that changes can be made in the workplace when needed. The test can help to make your job safer by identifying when workplace hazards may be causing respiratory problems.

"We are pleased to join with OSHA in emphasizing the important role of spirometry in preventing costly, debilitating, and potentially fatal occupational lung diseases," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "These tests are a vital component of health and safety programs in workplaces where workers may be exposed to hazardous airborne contaminants."

OSHA recommends that employers test for diacetyl and diacetyl substitutes through this spirometry test as well.

OSHA is making some other changes. In 2011, they decided to withdraw a proposed interpretation titled "Interpretation of OSHA's Provisions for Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls of Occupational Noise." This was the interpretation that would have clarified the phrase "feasible administrative or engineering controls." The proposed interpretation they're withdrawing was initially published in the Federal Register back in October of 2010.

Their enforcement policy calls for noise exposures that are less than 100 decibels. This policy has not accurately reflected the noise standard's requirements that can be used through engineering and administrative controls. Previously, OSHA allowed employers to rely on a hearing conservation program. Through this program, workers were able to use hearing protectors such as ear plugs. The new standards were meant to fix the noise at its source. Unfortunately, those standards have been withdrawn.

"Hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels remains a serious occupational health problem in this country," said Dr. Michaels. "However, it is clear from the concerns raised about this proposal that addressing this problem requires much more public outreach and many more resources than we had originally anticipated. We are sensitive to the possible costs associated with improving worker protection and have decided to suspend work on this proposed modification while we study other approaches to abating workplace noise hazards."

Thousands of workers in our country suffer from preventable injury loss because of loud noise in their work areas. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 150,000 workers have suffered either significant or permanent hearing loss since 2004. There were more than 22,000 hearing loss cases reported to the Bureau in 2008 alone. Within a few months of the new standards' withdrawal, the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) wrote a public letter to OSHA, urging the Administration to "renew its focus on noise control despite the current climate of economic adversity."

To date, there's not much news to report. The only update comes via a January 2012 press release from the International Safety Equipment Association:

"Occupational noise exposure remains a priority at OSHA. OSHA may move forward with initiatives to minimize noise exposures - principally, it seems, through non-regulatory channels.

OSHA on November 3, 2011 held a stakeholder meeting on controlling workplace noise. The meeting was conceived and announced as agency withdrew on January 19, 2011 its proposed interpretation on economic and technical feasibility on engineering controls for occupational noise exposures...At the stakeholder meeting, ISEA members advocated for the use of hearing protectors combined with engineering controls. This combination often leads to optimal outcomes. The reduction of some noise from engineering controls allows hearing protection devices to effectively reduce a worker's noise exposure to 90 dBA, the permissible exposure limit."

If you have suffered a work injury in Springfield, Joplin, Columbia or Southeast Missouri, contact the workers' compensation lawyers at Aaron Sachs & Associates P.C. at 1- 888-777-AUTO.

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