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Noise and Hearing Conservation

worker wearing construction hat with ear muffsAn effective hearing conservation program can prevent hearing loss, improve employee morale and a general feeling of well-being, increase quality of production, and reduce the incidence of stress-related disease.

The employer must administer a continuing, effective hearing conservation program whenever employee noise exposures are at or above an eight hour time-weighted average (TWA) of 85 dBA or, equivalently, a dose of 50 percent. [29 CFR 1910.95(c)(1)] This is referred to as the action level. [29 CFR 1910.95(c)(2)]

Note: The Hearing Conservation Amendment (HCA), as set forth here, does not apply to oil and gas well drilling and servicing operations [29 CFR 1910.95(o)].

Minimum requirements of a hearing conservation program are included in the following sections:
There are also specific hearing conservation program requirements for agricultural, maritime, and construction worksites (App IV:B).

Monitoring Program
The employer must develop and implement a monitoring program whenever information indicates that any employee's exposure may equal or exceed the action level. [29 CFR 1910.95(d)(1)]
  • The sampling strategy must be designed to identify all employees for inclusion in the hearing conservation program, and enable the proper selection of hearing protectors. [29 CFR 1910.95(d)(1)(i)]
  • The monitoring requirement is performance-based, as it allows employers to choose a monitoring method that best suits each individual work situation. Either personal or area monitoring may be used.
    • If there are circumstances that may make area monitoring generally inappropriate, such as high worker mobility, significant variations in sound level or a significant component of impulse noise, then the employer must use representative personal sampling unless it can be shown that area sampling produces equivalent results. [29 CFR 1910.95(d)(1)(ii)]
  • Noise measurements must integrate all continuous, intermittent, and impulsive noise levels from 80 to 130 dBA. [29 CFR 1910.95(d)(2)(i)]
  • Repeated Monitoring. Monitoring must be repeated whenever a change in production, process, equipment or controls increases noise exposures to the extent that [29 CFR 1910.95(d)(3)]:
  • Employee Notification. The employer must notify each employee who is exposed at or above the action level of the results of the monitoring. [29 CFR 1910.95(e)]
  • Observation of Monitoring. The employer must provide affected employees or their representatives with an opportunity to observe noise monitoring procedures. [29 CFR 1910.95(f)]
Refer to the Exposure Evaluation section for additional information on noise monitoring.

Hearing Protection Devices (HPDs)
Hearing protection devices (HPDs) are considered the last option to control exposures to noise. HPDs are generally used during the necessary time it takes to implement engineering or administrative controls, or when such controls are not feasible.

ear plugsBasic Requirements HPD Selection and Use
  • Employees must be given the opportunity to select their HPDs from a suitable variety. [29 CFR 1910.95(i)(3)] Generally, this should include a minimum of two devices, representative of at least two different types.
  • The employer must provide training in the use and care of all HPDs provided to employees. [29 CFR 1910.95(i)(4)]
  • The employer must ensure proper initial fitting of HPDs and supervise their correct use. [29 CFR 1910.95(i)(5)]
HPD Attenuation
  • Attenuation refers to the damping or decrease of noise levels as a result of wearing HPDs.
  • The employer must evaluate HPD attenuation for the specific noise environments in which the HPD will be used. [29 CFR 1910.95(j)(1)]
  • HPDs must attenuate employee exposure to at least an eight hour time-weighted average of 90 dBA. [29 CFR 1910.95(j)(2)]
    • For employees who have experienced a standard threshold shift (STS), HPDs must attenuate exposure at or below the action level of 85 dBA-TWA (time-weighted average). [29 CFR 1910.95(j)(3)]
  • The adequacy of the HPDs must be re-evaluated whenever employee noise exposures increase to the extent that they may no longer provide adequate attenuation. The employer must provide more effective hearing protectors as necessary. [29 CFR 1910.95(j)(4)]
  • Methods for Estimating HPD Attenuation (App IV:C)
Hearing Protection Labeling
  • Additional information (App IV:D) on the background of hearing protection labeling, Task Force recommended changes, and other relevant publications are available.

Employee Training and Education
The employer must institute a training program for all employees with noise exposures at or above the action level and ensure employee participation. [29 CFR 1910.95(k)(1)]
  • Training must be repeated annually for each employee in the hearing conservation program. [29 CFR 1910.95(k)(2)]
  • Information must be updated to be consistent with changes in protective equipment and work processes. [29 CFR 1910.95(k)(2)]
The employer must ensure that each employee is informed of the following: Access to Information and Training Materials
  • The employer must:
    • Make copies of the noise standard available to affected employees or their representatives and post a copy in the workplace. [29 CFR 1910.95(l)(1)]
    • Provide affected employees with any informational materials pertaining to the standard that are supplied to the employer by OSHA. [29 CFR 1910.95(l)(2)]
    • Provide, upon request, all material relating to the employer's training and education program to OSHA. [29 CFR 1910.95(l)(3)]

The purpose of OSHA recordkeeping regulations is to assist employers in recognizing and correcting workplace hazards by tracking work-related injuries/illnesses and their causes. Requirements according to the noise standard are: With regard to recordkeeping requirements, OSHA has developed a "decision tree" [7 KB PDF*, 1 page] to determine whether the results of an audiometric exam given on or after January 1, 2003 reveal a recordable STS. See 29 CFR 1904 for additional information on recording and reporting occupational injuries and illness.

Accessibility Assistance: Contact the OSHA Directorate of Technical Support and Emergency Management at 202-693-2300 for assistance accessing PDF materials.

* These files are provided for downloading.

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