Hearing Protectors: 29 CFR 1910.95(i)(j)
OSHA mandates that “a variety of suitable hearing protectors” (earplugs and/or muffs) must be made available at no cost to workers exposed to an “8-hour time-weighted noise level of 85 dBA”, or Action Level. Exposure to high levels of noise can cause permanent hearing loss, and/or ringing in the ears (Tinnitus) and is unable to be treated with surgery or medicine.
Center for Industrial Audiometrics offers individual fit testing of an employee’s hearing protection. This will give the employee a Personal Attenuation Rating (PAR). OSHA recommends utilizing fit testing to determine if an employee is receiving adequate attenuation from their chosen hearing protector. Cost is per employee and can be provided at the time of annual hearing testing.
To protect hearing, it is not sufficient just to have an earplug in the ear. It must fit properly. Fit testing ensures there is no under or over protection of an employee’s hearing. In doing so, the testing determines if the employee is using the highest quality of hearing protection for them.
Action Level 85 dBA:
An employee in an area with a noise level at or above 85dBA will have hearing protectors available at no cost to the employee.
Permissible Exposure Limit 90 dBA:
Any employee in an area with a noise level at or about 90 dBA are required to wear hearing protectors. These will always be provided at no cost to the employee. An employee’s hearing protector should lower their TWA to below 90 dBA if worn properly.
Standard Threshold Shift (STS):
Any employee who has had an STS shall be retrained and refitted with hearing protectors and will be required to use them for noise exposures at or above the Action Level, 85 dBA.
The fit should be verified through Fit Testing (obtaining the employee’s Personal Attenuation Rating) to ensure proper protection is being obtained.
If an employee has had an STS, their hearing protector should lower their TWA to 85 dBA or less.
If an employee is in an Action Level area, employers must offer hearing protection. The employee is not required to wear it.
If an employee is in a Permissible Exposure Limit area, employers must provide hearing protection. The employee is required to wear it.
If an employee indicates a Standard Threshold Shift, employers must provide hearing protection. The employee is required to wear it.