AIHA Comments on Hearing Protector Labeling

Nov. 5, 2009
The American Industrial Hygiene Association has released the comments it made to EPA about 40CFR211 Subpart B, Hearing Protector Labeling, a proposed rule published in the Aug. 5 Federal Register that would de-emphasize the single number rating given to hearing protection devices.

The comments on the proposed rule were compiled by the AIHA Noise Committee, whose members are actively engaged in regulatory compliance, management and oversight of noise and other hearing protector issues. “AIHA appreciates the opportunity to work with EPA to help achieve the mutual goal of protecting American workers and we look forward to further opportunities to work with the agency on this and similar issues and regulatory priorities,” said the association.

The association said it approves of EPA’s overall approach to de-emphasizing the single number rating, commenting, “Research and experience indicate that hearing protection device (HPD) performance is highly variable for a variety of reasons, and leading users to an understanding that HPD performance will vary by reporting a range of values on the label is a positive step.”

The association added that the range-of-values approach may be challenging to implement from a compliance and selection aspect, “but we feel that this complexity is manageable and will be secondary to the important communication of performance variability.”

AIHA took issue with EPA’s use of the term “active” to refer to a type of hearing protection devices, saying that commonly, the term refers to wave-cancellation or noise cancellation technology and is not used as a catch-all phrase for all electronic devices.

The group says it agrees with EPA that selection of ANSI S12.6-2008 Method A as the best source of data on which to base the labeled values adding that Method A “is a better assessment of the capability of the device under test to block sound. Method A data is the best choice to drive the label values.”

AIHA also said it is in support of provision of as much information as feasible on HPD performance to users. “If possible, we would prefer a simpler primary label than that illustrated in the proposal, with details provided on a secondary basis at manufacturers’ Web sites.”

The industrial hygienists also said they are unclear on EPA’s enforcement position. “We would prefer to see enforcement guidelines spelled out in the rule, indicating the steps EPA plans to take to ensure compliance on an ongoing basis.”

AIHA took issue with the timeline given in the proposed regulation, stating, “Given the hundreds of different types of HPD currently being manufactured, the multiplicity of new tests that may be conducted under different scenarios (impulse, etc.) and the limited available testing resources, we question whether a 2 1/2 year window is sufficient for manufacturers to retest and re-label all their devices.”

According to the association, there is one accredited laboratory that is not associated with a specific manufacturer or the government. “It is unlikely that this single lab will have the capacity to test all devices manufactured and equally unlikely that government laboratories will be made available for private, for-profit testing.”

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