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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 http://www.osha.gov.
Honorable John W. Warner
United States Senator
805 Federal Building
Norfolk, Virginia 23501
Dear Senator Warner:
Thank you for your letter of June 3, 1982, on behalf of your constituent, Mr. Taylor L. Grizzard, President of the Virginia Processors Association, concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) hearing conservation amendment to the occupational noise exposure standard.
In recent public hearings, OSHA received testimony from the National Broiler Council, and the Agency has also received numerous comments and letters from poultry slaughtering and processing companies. We are pleased to receive their comments and we have entered them into the public record of the noise standard and the hearing conservation amendment. OSHA staff members will take these comments into consideration as they draft the final decisions on certain elements of the standard.
With respect to the problem of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) requirement for non-absorbent (and therefore reflective) surfaces, we feel that there is no regulatory conflict in this case. The hearing conservation amendment does not require that the noise level be reduced to 85 dB, only that a hearing conservation program be implemented. We do recognize that hard surfaces produce reverberant conditions that tend to augment existing noise levels, and that this condition makes higher exposures, consequently increasing the need for poultry processors to maintain hearing conservation programs.
As you know, this administration is sensitive to the problems of business, and to those of small business in particular, and the Agency is searching for cost-effective solutions to problems that also will be protective of workers' health and safety. In light of the high cost of engineering controls, the Agency believes that hearing conservation programs provide a cost-effective method of protecting workers' hearing for those who are exposed to average noise levels between 85 and 90 dB, and for workers exposed above those levels when engineering controls are infeasible.
The 85 dB action level, which triggers audiometric testing and other elements of the hearing conservation program, was selected on the basis of evidence showing that significant numbers of people will develop handicapping hearing losses when exposed to levels above 85 dB over a working lifetime. In fact, OSHA estimates that approximately 940,000 workers exposed over a working lifetime would still suffer substantial hearing losts when compling with the current 90 dB permissible exposure level. Effective hearing conservation programs are expected to reduce this number to approximately 100,000. Therefore, to identify and to protect the more susceptible members of the population exposed to levels between 85 and 90 dB, audiometric testing and appropriate follow-up procedures are needed.
I hope that this information will be helpful to you and to Mr. Grizzard. If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.
R. Leonard Vance, Ph.D.
Director Health Standards Programs