AIHA Asks OSHA's Barab to Lower Noise PEL

Today's letter to the acting assistant secretary says in part, "we cannot wait any longer to address this issue."

Hearing conservation is fast becoming more important and, paradoxically, easier to attain, for several reasons. Today, the American Industrial Hygiene Association's president sent a letter asking Jordan Barab, acting assistant secretary in charge of OSHA, immediately to lower the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for occupational noise exposure to 85 dBA as an eight-hour TWA and to adopt the 3 dB exchange rate.

Hearing conservation professionals, NIOSH, ACGIH, and others have long sought these changes; the United States is one of only two countries still using 90 dBA as its exposure limit and one of three using a 5 dB exchange rate, causing American workers to be allowed to be exposed "to noise levels that would result in more hearing loss than the rest of the world," AIHA President Lindsay E. Booher's letter points out. It says in part, "we cannot wait any longer to address this issue."

Barab told his OSHA colleagues last week in an email that he intends to reinvigorate enforcement while he's in charge of the agency, according to the OSHA Underground blog. His history of safety activism suggests he might agree with the recommendation.

Howard Leight, a Sperian unit, will unveil a new, personalized hearing conservation technology May 5 that provides in-ear dosimetry, measuring a worker's actual exposure to noise throughout the workday whether he is wearing hearing protection or not. This technology provides real-time data about real-world exposures and promises to give noise-exposed workers the information they need to change their behavior so they are less exposed to damaging noise, the company's experts said during a briefing today.

Hearing loss is a significant concern at the moment for industry professionals for two other reasons: A young generation of new workers is arriving having been exposed to potentially high noise levels from portable music players they carry, and older workers are choosing to stay in the workforce longer, potentially increasing their cumulative work exposure to noise.

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