OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

September 15, 1981

K. E. Anderson, Director
Corporate Safety and Industrial Hygiene
A. O. Smith Corporation
Post Office Box 584
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201

Dear Mr. Anderson:

This is in response to your inquiry of July 10, 1981, to Mr. John Martonik, concerning the application of OSHA's existing and new hearing conservation program requirements. As you requested in a telephone conversation with a member of my staff, this reply was delayed until after OSHA's publication of the revised hearing conservation amendment on August 21, 1981 (copy enclosed). This revised amendment went into effect on August 22, 1981, and covers all workers, except those in construction and agriculture, who are exposed to eight-hour, time- weighted average levels of 85 decibels (dB) or greater.

For compliance purposes, OSHA samples employees in high noise areas, selecting those employees with the highest expected exposure in each job classification, where possible. Where noise levels predictably vary throughout a work week, the compliance officer attempts to monitor employees on the noisiest day.

If OSHA finds employees who are exposed to eight-hour, time-weighted average levels of 85 dB or greater, then we would investigate compliance with the requirements for a hearing conservation program. It should be noted, however, that the completion date for obtaining noise measurements of employees exposed at or above 85 dB (29 CFR 1910.95(e)(1)) is February 22, 1981. In addition, the completion date for baseline audiograms required by (j) of the amendment is August 22, 1982. Thus, OSHA will take these completion dates into consideration when determining compliance with the new hearing conservation amendment in the interim.

Where noise levels predictably vary throughout the work week (from less than 85 dBA (TWA) to greater than 90 dBA (TWA)) a hearing conservation program would be required. The number of times exposures exceed these noise levels is irrelevant, as long as the employer could have reasonably expected exposure levels to exceed the limits that day (e.g., the noisiest equipment and gauge of metal were being used).

OSHA has reopened the hearing conservation record for additional public comment on various provisions, including those whose feasibility or cost-effectiveness deserves further consideration. Written comments should be submitted to:

OSHA Docket Office
Docket No. H-011
Room S-6212
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20210

I hope this information is helpful. If I can be of further service, feel free to contact my office.


Bruce Hillenbrand
Acting Director
Federal Compliance and State Programs