ISEA petitions OSHA to improve hearing protection regs

RP news wires, Noria Corporation
Tags: workplace safety

The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) has petitioned the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to reduce the level of noise to which workers may be exposed without putting noise-control measures in place.

The current U.S. regulation for occupational noise exposure was promulgated over 20 years ago, and was based in large part on research conducted in the 1960s, ISEA president Dan Shipp told OSHA in a January 26, 2007, letter. He noted that significant research findings in the intervening 40-plus years indicate that OSHAs existing noise-control regulations are insufficient to protect workers from the effects of workplace noise.

OSHAs current permissible exposure limit (PEL) for noise controls is 90 decibels (dBA), although the applicable regulation (29 CFR 1910.95) also requires employers to have hearing conservation programs in all workplaces where noise levels exceed 85 dBA. Since the existing rule was promulgated 1974, however, research has shown that workers exposed at between 85 and 90 dBA face significant risk of hearing loss. ISEA asked OSHA to reduce the PEL to 85 dBA for an eight-hour, time-weighted average (TWA), consistent with the hearing-conservation requirement.

ISEA, which is the trade association that represents manufacturers of safety equipment, including hearing protection, commissioned a review of current workplace noise conditions by a leading hearing conservation authority. Dr. Alice Suter of Ashland, Ore., concluded that despite current OSHA regulations, it is clear that a great many American workers are still losing their hearing [And] in spite of the widespread use of hearing protection devices, many of todays hearing conservation programs are inadequate, with deficiencies in audiometric testing and training, as well as in other program areas, especially in small and mid-sized companies.

In addition to petitioning OSHA to lower the PEL, ISEA asked the agency to reduce the exchange rate from 5 to 3 dBA. This number represents the increase in noise exposure that can be permitted if the duration of the exposure is halved. A 3-dBA exchange rate would be consistent with current research findings and requirements in most of the world, Shipp noted.

The United States is one of two countries still employing the 90-dBA PEL, and one of three using the 5-dBA exchange rate, Shipp added. It is clear that workers in nearly all of the rest of the world receive protection from noise greater than that offered by U.S. regulation, and we believe that it is time that U.S. workers be afforded the same degree of protection.

Since ISEA delivered its petition to OSHA, the association has asked more than 20 other hearing conservation stakeholders, including the American Industrial Hygiene Association and National Hearing Conservation Association, to write OSHA in support of the petition. Organizations interested in supporting ISEAs petition may contact technical director Janice Comer Bradley at 703-525-1695 or ISEAs petition and Dr. Suters report also are available by contacting Bradley.

Arlington, Va.-based International Safety Equipment Association is the leading trade association for manufacturers of safety and personal protective equipment. Established in 1933, ISEA supports its members in manufacturing and marketing the highest-quality products to protect the safety and health of people who may be exposed to hazardous and potentially harmful environments while working on the job or at home.

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