The Modern Evolution of Hearing Conservation Regulations
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The Modern Evolution of Hearing Conservation Regulations

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    It is interesting to study the noise standards that have been promulgated in the US over the last decade or so. These regulations are likely to have long-lasting impact. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Hearing Conservation Amendment (March 1983) continues to have influence not only in the workplace but in the debate over new regulations. Both the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulatory preamble documents state the desire to be consistent with OSHA. An examination of Table 1, which compares the major components of the three regulations and the 1998 NIOSH best practices criteria, depicts the extent to which that intent is met. There has been some regulatory activity in the last decade which may give some hope for evolution and updating based on the wealth of science that has occurred during the last quarter of a century since the OSHA regulation was enacted. However there has also been some back-sliding toward more lenient standards. The MSHA noise standard made regulatory progress in September 2000 by emphasizing engineering and administrative controls, followed by personal protective equipment, in the hierarchy of noise intervention. MSHA s requirement for technician certification (today only available from CAOHC) strengthened the training requirements for audiometric testing in hearing conservation programs and MSHA also added the requirement of dual hearing protection at 105 dB TWA. There were many subtle differences between OSHA and MSHA based on comments and a desire to clarify some of the vague aspects of the OSHA noise standard, and meet the needs of the regulated mining industry. One example pertains to the ceiling for exposures. OSHA says, no exposures >115 dBA, which is interpreted to mean no unprotected exposures above that level, giving credit for the assumed effectiveness of hearing conservation programs, hearing protection devices and administrative and engineering controls. MSHA specified that a P code1 violation be issued for any protected or unprotected exposures >115 dBA. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) noise standard for railroad operating employees, which went The Modern Evolution of Hearing Conservation Regulations into effect February 26, 2007, was expressly based on the OSHA standard but also uses MSHA for comparison. The preamble states that the FRA defers to OSHA as the primary regulator of noise in the workplace, but also acknowledges the need for some departure from the OSHA regulation (FRA Preamble II.B). As an example, FRA requires testing at 8000 Hz because it will allow employers to identify hearing loss sooner. The FRA rejected MSHA s hierarchy of noise controls in favor of requiring specific engineering interventions and focusing on appropriate hearing protection which would still allow communication and audibility, and identification of excessive noise through employee-filed excessive noise reports. 2 Where OSHA has no specific mandate requiring employees to take advantage of the employer-paid audiogram, it has been traditionally a condition of employment and is generally accepted that OSHA-covered workers require an annual audiogram. MSHA addressed this issue in its preamble; however, they made no significant change. MSHA employers are required to offer annual audiograms but MSHA stopped short of requiring employees to comply with annual audiometric testing. The MSHA preamble does allow that mine operators can also make audiometric monitoring a condition of employment. FRA requires employees to
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