The opposition to the proposed change in interpreting "feasible" engineering controls for noise is reminiscent of the opposition to OSHA when it was created.

National Academy of Engineering Report Urges 85 dB PEL

OSHA has long used the 90 dB Permissible Exposure Limit to define maximum "safe" noise, although much of the rest of the world disagrees.

A new "Technology for a Quieter America" report from the National Academy of Engineering's Committee on Technology for a Quieter America supports NIOSH's recommended 85 dB as the Permissible Exposure Limit for noise-exposed workers. Many organizations have urged OSHA to reduce its current 90 dB PEL to 85, which is used by most other countries in the world.

85 dB is the required "action level" according to OSHA's hearing conservation standard. MSHA also uses 90 dB as its exposure limit.

The OSHA PEL defines the maximum "safe" noise above which any 8-hour exposure requires that workers wear hearing protectors. The report endorses the lower PEL, using engineering controls as the first method of eliminating harmful noise, and "buy quiet" programs that encourage companies to buy less-noisy machinery and equipment.

NIOSH on Oct. 27 posted a release about a noise reduction device it has developed for drilling roof holes inside underground mines. Underground miners are frequently exposed to harmful noise because they are worked in confined areas near loud machinery, the agency says.

The report also addresses the impact of personal listening devices and off-the-job noise sources. "As the population of the United States and, indeed, the world increases and developing countries become more industrialized," the NAE summary says, "problems of noise are likely to become more pervasive and lower the quality of life for everyone. Efforts to manage noise exposures, to design quieter buildings, products, equipment, and transportation vehicles, and to provide a regulatory environment that facilitates adequate, cost-effective, sustainable noise controls require our immediate attention."

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