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New Workplace Noise Restrictions Proposed

Safety organization says new limits necessary to protect workers' hearing

The American Industrial Hygiene Association has asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to implement new standards to protect workers' hearing in the workplace.

Specifically, the workplace safety organization has asked OSHA to lower the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for occupational noise exposure to 85 dBA and to adopt the 3 dB exchange rate.

"AIHA strongly believes the 85 dBA limit and 3 dB exchange rates are appropriate for both the general industry and construction standards," wrote Lindsay Booher, AIHA president, in a letter dated April 28 to Jordan Barab, acting U.S. assistant secretary of labor. "AIHA has supported this position for some time through the work of the AIHA Noise Committee. One of the greatest challenges and concerns we now face in the United States is the hearing loss that "is occurring in our workforce. Over 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous levels of noise, and noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common occupational diseases."

Booher notes that "even a currently compliant hearing conservation program i.e., one where workers are exposed up to 90 dBA TWA with no hearing protection, will yield up to 26% excess risk of material hearing impairment over the course of a working lifetime."

The United States is one of only two nations that still uses the 90 dBA PEL and is one of only three nations that uses the 5 dB exchange rate, according to Booher.

"Lowering the PEL to 85 dBA may also streamline management of hearing conservation programs by adopting a single threshold trigger for all hearing loss prevention activity such as engineering controls, training, hearing protection, and hearing conservation programs," Booher wrote.

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