By Karen Axelton

Do your employees work with noisy equipment? A new proposed rule by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could affect how you run your business, reports The Hill blog.

To protect workers’ hearing, OSHA’s proposal reinterprets an existing rule about noisy work environments. The reinterpretation would require employers to use “administrative or engineering controls” to cut workplace noise first. Earplugs and earmuffs could only be used to supplement these changes—not as the first line of defense against noise. Under the proposal, businesses might need to make changes like adjusting shifts so workers don’t spend extended time around noisy equipment, or installing features to dampen sound.

The rules would not change the noise level workers are allowed to be exposed to when they have protective devices, currently 90 decibels per 8 hours (similar to the sound of a lawnmower). Although large manufacturers like steel foundries would be most likely to be affected, smaller manufacturers could also be affected depending on the noise level or number of machines in use.

Several business groups including the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Home Builders have come out against the proposal. In response, OSHA has extended the period in which lobbyists can comment to March 21st, 2011.

Stay tuned and keep an ear out for news on this proposal.