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.

October 17, 1983

G. A. Brown
Health and Safety Representative
United Automobile Aerospace
Agricultural Implement Workers
of America (UAW)
377 South Central Avenue
Hapeville, Georgia 30354

Dear Mr. Brown:

This is in response to your letter of September 20, 1983, requesting an interpretation of a provision of the hearing conservation amendment to the occupational noise standard.

The provision, 29 CFR 1910.95(i)(3), states: "Employees shall be given the opportunity to select their hearing protectors from a variety of suitable hearing protectors provided by the employer." In this instance, OSHA did not intend to specify the number of types or variety of hearing protectors from which employees may make their selection. Instead OSHA included this performance language recognizing that there be several reasons why employees should be allowed to select from a variety of hearing protectors.

Plant conditions such as dust, temperature, and humidity can cause one type of protector to be more suitable than another. For example, ear plugs can be more comfortable in a hot, humid environment, than ear muffs. Also, individual ear canals come in all shapes and sizes. For people with unusually shaped ear canals, fitting may be difficult, and commonly-used insert protectors may be very uncomfortable.

In general, employers are advised to give workers a choice between at least one type of ear plug and one type of muff since individuals may be more comfortable in one type of protection than in the other.

However, the number of different hearing protectors required to constitute an adequate variety is simply the number needed to supply each employee that requires a hearing protector a suitable one. The term "suitable hearing protectors" as used in the provision means protectors that are comfortable to wear and that offer sufficient attenuation to prevent hearing loss.

Thank you for your inquiry. If we can be of future assistance, please contact us.


John B. Miles, Jr., Director
Directorate of Field Operations