What Does Hearing Conservation Amendment (CFR1910.95) Mean?
The Hearing Conservation Amendment (HCA) is an amendment to OSHA’s occupational noise exposure standard (1910.95, Occupational Noise Exposure). It was first introduced in 1981, and then suspended for review by the Reagan Administration, and then reintroduced permanently in 1983.
The HCA is primarily known for introducing a mandate that requires all employers to implement a hearing conservation program if their workplace exposes employees to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB) over an eight-hour Time Weighted Average (TWA). In its standard, OSHA refers to this 85 dB level as the “action level”.
Safeopedia Explains Hearing Conservation Amendment (CFR1910.95)
Prior to the introduction of the Hearing Conservation Amendment, OSHA’s hearing protection standard primarily consisted of its Permissible Exposure Limit of 90 dB over an eight-hour TWA. In 1972, the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety—a part of the Center for Disease Control—called on OSHA to lower its PEL to 85 dB in order to better protect workers’ hearing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a similar call to OSHA in 1974; however, when OSHA itself attempted to make such a change, it was unable to due to political reasons.
The HCA that was submitted in 1981, and went into force in 1983, did not lower the PEL to 85 dB; however, it did introduce 85 dB as an “action level” at which employers were obligated to implement a hearing conservation program (HCP). The HCA also outlined five necessary components that a hearing conservation program would need to include to be compliant with OSHA’s occupational noise exposure standard.
The five key aspects of an HCP are:
Monitor employee noise exposure
Perform audiometric testing (hearing tests) on employees
Provide hearing protection to employees who request it
Conduct employee training on hearing protection
Retain records that demonstrate compliance with activities 1 – 4.
The 85 dB action limit introduced by the HCA creates a five-decibel gap between the point at which an HCP must be introduced and OSHA’s 90 dB PEL. Breaching OSHA’s 90 dB PEL requires employers to implement engineering and administrative controls to reduce workers’ noise exposure, a requirement that in some cases could add significant costs to the employer’s safety obligations. Thus, the 85 dB action limit introduced by the HCA can be understood as a compromise between industry, which wants to keep costs low, and organizations like NIOSH, that want the PEL reduced to 85 dB.