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COTTON GINNERS HANDBOOK
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Since its formation in 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recognized agriculture was not covered by their noise standards. However, in 2014, OSHA cited two gin companies under the OSHA general duty clause for an alleged failing to protect employees from exposure to hazardous noise levels by not requiring employees to wear hearing protection. In January 2016, OSHA withdrew both citations.
The 2014 interpretations by OSHA were contrary to OSHA’s enforcement of the federal OSHA noise standards and guidance since 1971 when OSHA came into existence; 1981, when the hearing conservation amendment was promulgated and agriculture was specifically excluded; and 1983 when the OSHA 90 dBA level was reaffirmed. OSHA’s contention that their general duty clause requires these two gins to mandate hearing protection conflicts with OSHA guidance specifically related to this topic, as well as over 40 years of consistent enforcement of the Occupational Noise Exposure ("noise standard") standards relating to agriculture.
OSHA has not presented any new health data indicating that working in a cotton gin over a working lifetime causes occupational noise-induced hearing loss, or issued any new guidance on enforcement of the OSHA noise standard as it applies to agriculture. The science and OSHA’s current guidance continue to support the conclusion that intermittent/interrupted exposure to noise in agriculture, including cotton gins, is not an occupational hazard, requiring mandatory hearing protection and a hearing conservation program.
The OSHA noise regulations as they apply to agriculture, including cotton gins, are discussed.