Complying with OSHA’s Hearing Standard

I hope you have had your coffee, because I’m just going to be direct – does your company comply with OSHA’s Hearing Conservation Standard, 29 CFR §1910.95?

Peter Gerstenberger

Has your company conducted noise-dosimeter testing for noisy work environments? Did you find any work environments/jobs that would regularly exceed OSHA’s threshold of 85 decibels (dBA) on a time-weighted average (TWA) for an eight-hour day? Do you require baseline audiometric (hearing) testing of “affected” new hires? Do you require annual audiometric testing for affected employees? Do you have any workplace scenarios in which you require employees to use two forms of hearing protection (i.e., ear plugs and earmuffs) to attenuate noise to an acceptable level?

Are you scratching your head right now?

We recently posed these questions to members on social media, hoping the survey response would help guide other members on what they should be doing to keep their workers safe and to comply with OSHA. The 12 responses we had received at the time I wrote this were, well, confusing.

Thirty-three percent of respondents know they have work environments exceeding the 85dBA TWA threshold, yet none of them has done the dosimeter measurements to document that.

And only one company out of 12 did baseline or annual hearing testing.

How should we interpret this response?

A pessimist would say that companies are skating by, hoping OSHA will ignore them if they just use hearing protection. A small percentage in our survey even use double protection when they think it’s needed. And the information I can dig up on OSHA-
citation history seems to validate this approach. Last fiscal year, OSHA only issued 247 citations for violations of 1910.95, and 83% of the citations came from manufacturing work environments. Contrast that with only eight citations coming from two inspections in the Landscaping Services NAICS code, which includes tree care. Clearly, OSHA has bigger fish to fry.

Here’s how I prefer to interpret the survey response. Our members are thinking, “Why take a chance with our workers’ hearing? Assume the worst, give them the PPE and have them wear it.” Simple. Logical. It’s what OSHA calls a de minimis violation. Employers are complying with the intent of the law, not the letter of the law.

And I’m particularly impressed with employers who have gone to Bluetooth headsets that protect workers’ hearing while allowing them to be in constant communication. Yes, they are a little bit expensive, but what a game changer they have been in terms of safety on the crews I’ve observed.

We will leave the survey up in case you’re interested in providing input. Here’s the link:

Peter Gerstenberger, publisher

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