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In 1981, OSHA implemented new requirements to protect all workers in general industry for employees to implement a Hearing Conservation Program where workers are exposed to a time-weighted average noise level of 85 dBA or higher over an 8-hour work shift. This requirement was created to prevent hearing loss caused by hazardous noise exposure at the workplace. If your employees must raise their voices to talk it is likely that they are exposed to sounds that are 85dBA or greater. This noise level requires audiometric monitoring. If sounds are 90dBA or greater, employers must implement a hearing conservation program.
Because we perform all testing on-site, there is no need for your employees to miss time from for work to attend audiological appointments.
What is occupational noise exposure?
Noise, or unwanted sound, is one of the most pervasive occupational health problems. It is a by-product of many industrial processes. Sound consists of pressure changes in a medium (usually air), caused by vibration or turbulence. These pressure changes produce waves emanating away from the turbulent or vibrating source. Exposure to high levels of noise causes hearing loss and may cause other harmful health effects as well. The extent of damage depends primarily on the intensity of the noise and the duration of the exposure.
Noise-induced hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. Temporary hearing loss results from short-term exposures to noise, with normal hearing returning after a period of rest. Generally, prolonged exposure to high noise levels over a period of time gradually causes permanent damage. OSHA’s hearing conservation program is designed to protect workers with significant occupational noise exposures from hearing loss even if they are subject to such noise exposures over their entire working lifetimes. This publication summarizes the required component of OSHA’s hearing conservation program for general industry. It covers monitoring, audiometric testing, hearing protectors, training, and recordkeeping requirements.
What monitoring is required?
The hearing conservation program requires employers to monitor noise exposure levels in a way that accurately identifies employees exposed to noise at or above 85 decibels (dB) averaged over 8 working hours, or an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). Employers must monitor all employees whose noise exposure is equivalent to or greater than a noise exposure received in 8 hours where the noise level is constantly 85 dB. The exposure measurement must include all continuous, intermittent, and impulsive noise within an 80 dB to 130 dB range and must be taken during a typical work situation. This requirement is performance-oriented because it allows employers to choose the monitoring method that best suits each individual situation.
Employers must repeat monitoring whenever changes in production, process, or controls increase noise exposure. These changes may mean that more employees need to be included in the program or that their hearing protectors may no longer provide adequate protection. Employees are entitled to observe monitoring procedures and must receive notification of the results of exposure monitoring. The method used to notify employees is left to the employer’s discretion. Employers must carefully check or calibrate instruments used for monitoring employee exposures to ensure that the measurements are accurate. Calibration procedures are unique to specific instruments. Employers should follow the manufacturer’s instructions to determine when and how extensively to calibrate the instrument.
What is audiometric testing?
Audiometric testing monitors an employee’s hearing over time. It also provides an opportunity for employers to educate employees about their hearing and the need to protect it. The employer must establish and maintain an audiometric testing program. The important elements of the program include baseline audiograms, annual audiograms, training, and follow-up procedures.
Employers must make audiometric testing available at no cost to all employees who are exposed to an action level of 85 dB or above, measured as an 8-hour TWA. The audiometric testing program follow-up should indicate whether the employer’s hearing conservation program is preventing hearing loss.
A licensed or certified audiologist, otolaryngologist, or another physician must be responsible for the program. Both professionals and trained technicians may conduct audiometric testing. The professional in charge of the program does not have to be present when a qualified technician conducts tests. The professional’s responsibilities include overseeing the program and the work of the technicians, reviewing problem audiograms, and determining whether referral is necessary. The employee needs a referral for further testing when test results are questionable or when related medical problems are suspected.
If additional testing is necessary or if the employer suspects a medical pathology of the ear that is caused or aggravated by wearing hearing protectors, the employer must refer the employee for a clinical audiological evaluation or otological exam, as appropriate. There are two types of audiograms required in the hearing conservation program: baseline and annual audiograms.