AIHA Asks OSHA to Lower Noise PEL

In a letter addressed to OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr., the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) urges the agency to lower the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for occupational noise from its current limit of 90 dBA to 85 dBA as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).

In addition, the association petitioned Foulke to adopt the 3 dB noise exchange rate, which represents the increase in noise exposure that can be permitted if the duration of the exposure is halved.

“Over 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous levels of noise, and noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common occupational diseases,” wrote AIHA President Frank Renshaw in the letter to Foulke. “Such hearing loss significantly affects the ability to communicate and negatively impacts a worker’s quality of life.”

According to AIHA, the 85 dBA limit and the 3 dB exchange rate are appropriate for both general industry and construction standards.

AIHA also says that even even a currently compliant hearing conservation program – one in which workers are exposed up to 90 dBA TWA with no hearing protection – will yield up to 26 percent excess risk of material hearing impairment over the course of a working lifetime. AIHA asserts that lowering the PEL would reduce the number of workers at risk by at least half.

U.S. Behind in the Race

According to AIHA, many agencies and organizations in the United States have adopted an occupational exposure limit of 85 dBA, with a 3 dB exchange rate. Both the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists have long recommended such exposure limits.

The Department of Defense and all three branches of the military use the 85 dBA exposure limit. In addition, the Defense Department endorses the use of the 3 dB exchange rate, the Army and Air Force have adopted this rate and the Navy is in the process of adopting it, according to AIHA.

The association also asserts that the United States is one of only two nations that still uses the 90 dBA PEL and is one of three nations that uses the 5 dB exchange rate. American workers are exposed to higher noise levels than the rest of the world, AIHA contends, which results in more hearing loss.

Other associations have been petitioning OSHA to reduce the PEL for occupational noise exposure. The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) also has asked the agency to reduce noise exposure limits to 85 dBA. (For more, read “ISEA Asks OSHA to Lower Noise Limit.")

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