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• Standard Number: 1910.95; 1910.95(b)(1); 1910.95(i)(2)

August 3, 2004

Ms. Tekla A. Staley
Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory
Idaho Falls, Idaho 83415-0302

Dear Ms. Staley:

Thank you for your of May 5, 2004 letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding applicability of the Occupational Noise standard, 29 CFR 1910.95, to employees who are deaf or have a diminished capacity to hear. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question not delineated within your original correspondence.

In your letter, you have specifically asked for clarification regarding the requirements in 29 CFR 1910.95 to use hearing protection with respect to:
  1. Employees exposed to sound levels in excess of the permissible noise exposures who wear hearing aids, and
  2. Employees exposed to sound levels in excess of the permissible noise exposures who are diagnosed as deaf.
Whenever feasible administrative or engineering controls fail to reduce sound to levels specified in Table G-16 of the standard, all exposed employees must be provided with, and must use, personal protective equipment to reduce the sound to permissible levels of exposure. In addition, employees, who are exposed to an eight-hour Time Weighted Average (TWA) noise level of 85 dBA or greater and who have experienced a standard threshold shift, must be provided with, and must use, hearing protectors with sufficient attenuation to reduce noise levels below 85 dBA, see 1910.95(b)(1) and 1910.95(i)(2). This standard applies to all employees. There is no exception for employees who have diminished capacity to hear or for employees who have been diagnosed as deaf.

Employees with a diminished capacity to hear cannot satisfy the requirement to wear hearing protection simply by turning off their hearing aids when working in a high noise area. Hearing aids are not hearing protectors. Employees should actually leave their hearing aids on and wear ear muffs with sufficient attenuation to reduce all workplace noise below 85 dBA TWA. Employees need to be protected from excess noise, but should also be able to hear any machine noises or warning signals necessary. Even employees, who have been diagnosed with severe or profound deafness, may still hear some noise and need to be protected from additional loss.

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. 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. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190.

Sincerely,


Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs

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