- Standard Number:
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.
July 28, 1999
Mr. James J. Gamblin
Post Office Box 1241
Jacksonville, TX 75766
Dear Mr. Gamblin:
Thank you for your May 11, letter. It was forwarded to us, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Office of Health Compliance Assistance (OHCA), from your U.S. Representative, Jim Turner, here in Washington, D.C. Your letter expresses your displeasure with "OSHA's plan to present Congress with a proposal to lower the sound pressure level requiring the use of earplugs," which pertains to OSHA's hearing conservation regulation, 29 CFR 1910.95, the Occupational Noise Exposure Standard.
Contrary to the information you have received, OSHA has no plans to revise its permissible exposure limit (PEL) for noise at this time. For your information, however, this letter explains OSHA's requirements to use personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent hearing loss in those exposed to excessive noise in the workplace.
Historically, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) became Public Law 91-596 in December 1970. It was designed:
to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources . . . by providing medical criteria which will assure insofar as practicable that no employee will suffer diminished health, functional capacity, or life expectancy as a result of his work experience.
The General Duty Clause, included in the OSH Act, also relays that the duty of each employer is to, "furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees," and the duty of each employee includes, "(compliance) with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to the Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct."
More specific to your concern are paragraphs (i)(1) and (i)(2)(i) of OSHA's Occupational Noise Exposure standard (29 CFR 1910.95) which state that an, "employer shall make hearing protectors available to all employees exposed to an 8-hour time-weighted average of 85 decibels or greater at no cost to the employees," and, "shall ensure that hearing protectors are worn by an employee (who is exposed to excessive amounts of noise (e.g., 90 decibels in 8-hour work day))."
These paragraphs of the standard have been part our policy on hearing conservation since 1981. The 90-dB PEL itself has been in effect since 1971 and, once more, OSHA has no immediate plans to revise it.
In addition to hearing loss, current evidence links exposure to high decibel ranges with other added health effects. Studies have shown that where consistent exposure to 95 decibels occurs, there exists a serious threat to the cardiovascular system, more specifically an elevation in systolic blood pressure (hypertension), digestive, respiratory, allergenic and musculo-skeletal disorders, as well as disorientation and reduction of eye focus, potentially leading to the increase of accidents and injuries. The negative effects associated with long-term hearing loss include decreased ability or inability to communicate, irritability, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and frustration with personal/familial relationships. Documentation of these health-related associations and more information about the causal link between noise and health effects are discussed in the preambles to the standard. If you have access to the internet, all of this information is available to you at http://www.osha.gov.
We hope you find this information helpful. We thank you again for your concern about worker safety and health. If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at (202) 693-2190.
Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs