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Is Your Hearing Conservation Program

Identifying All the Right Employees?

(Re: CFR 29 1910.95(c))


By John C. Dolehanty


March 2005


Most employers consider employee Hearing Conservation Program (HCP) inclusion as just a one step process that follows their exposure monitoring.  This procedure is deficient in directing proper employee inclusion in a HCP.  In order to correctly identify and include employees into an on-going and effective HCP employers must consider what the effects their dynamic and flexible work force has on their workforce.  A truly compliant program must account for the major impact that the movement of employees from one job to another can have on employee hearing conservation inclusion.


Hearing Conservation Program.  All general industry employers in the United States (other than those engaged in oil and gas well drilling and servicing operations) are required to institute an on-going and effective Hearing Conservation Program (HCP) whenever employee exposures meet or exceed 85 dBA time-weighted average (TWA).

Minimum hearing conservation program requirements include:

  • a sound exposure monitoring program

  • an audiometric testing program

  • providing adequate hearing protection devices

  • employee training and education and recordkeeping.

The specific requirements for each of these HCP requirements are detailed in

this OHSA website: http://www.osha.gov/dts/osta/otm/noise/hcp/index.html).



Employer Obligations.  As noted in 29 CFR 1910.95(c), an employer must administer a continuing, effective hearing conservation program whenever employee noise exposures are at or above an eight hour time-weighted average (TWA) of 85 dBA.  As such, employers must establish and maintain an audiometric testing program for all employees exposed at or above this action level. 


An employer has 6 months from the time of an employee's first exposure at or above the action level to establish a valid baseline audiogram against which subsequent audiograms can be compared.  Following this baseline audiogram and employer must, at least annually, obtain a new audiogram for each employee exposed at or above an 8-hour time-weighted average of 85 decibels.



Exposure Monitoring Program.  While sound exposure monitoring is a performance-based requirement, all monitoring strategies must be designed to identify all employees for inclusion in the Hearing Conservation Program (HCP).  In addition, the results must also enable for the proper selection of hearing protectors The monitoring must be repeated whenever: (a) a change in production, process, equipment or controls increases noise exposures to the extent that additional employees may be exposed at or above the action level or (b) changes may have rendered the attenuation provided by hearing protectors to a level that is inadequate. The typical result of the exposure monitoring survey provides most employers with one or more of the following:

  • a list of employee names exposed to sound levels ≥ 85 dBA TWA,

  • a list of jobs that generate exposure levels ≥ 85 dBA TWA,

  • a list of areas in the facility where sound levels are ≥ 85 dBA.


From this information the proper employees must be identified for inclusion in the Hearing Conservation Program.


Tracking Employee Movement for HCP Inclusion. What does your company use as a basis for deciding employee hearing conservation program inclusion? Most employers may feel that their annual HCP obligations have been completed once they have:

  • compiled an employees list for inclusion (based upon exposure survey results),

  • administered an audiometric test, and

  • trained the employees on the effects of noise, and provided the employee with adequate hearing protection.


However, if you were to reevaluate the employee inclusion information a day, week, or month later, would it always identify the exact same employees?  In fact, there may never be a point where a “complete for this year” attitude is appropriate for a truly compliant HCP.  As a general statement, no workforce is truly static.  As such, an employee not initially identified by the most recent exposure monitoring results may need to be added to the HCP at a later date.  Example conditions that may trigger additional employee inclusion in the HCP include:

  • overtime work

  • temporary change in jobs

  • absentee worker replacement

  • rotation into other jobs

  • a new hire.


A truly compliant Hearing Conservation Program must be designed to properly identify employee inclusion – 365 days a year.  A program that only evaluates employee HCP inclusion on an annual basis, or only following a new noise exposure survey, may be deficient and could leave an employer open to a citation violations and the employee unprotected by an on-going and effective Hearing Conservation Program.  This constant evaluation for employee inclusion in the HCP may pose a significant challenge to companies with large workforces that have not contemplated tracking worker movements and potential exposures on a daily basis.


Mr. Dolehanty is the President of Phase To, Inc., and has over 18 years of experience in hearing conservation and noise control.  Mr. Dolehanty can be reached at (517) 886-9379 and at johndolehanty@phaseto.com.  


What Amount Of Exposure Mandates Employee Inclusion?  Based upon the exact wording of 29 CFR 1910.95(c), a one time exposure to an eight hour time-weighted average (TWA) of 85 dBA or greater requires employee inclusion in an HCP.  This viewpoint would seem to be further bolstered by two standard interpretation letters published by OSHA: 

OSHA’s Standard Interpretation of September 15, 1981, to K. E. Anderson:  Where noise levels predictably vary throughout the work week (from less than 85 dBA (TWA) to greater than 90 dBA (TWA)) a hearing conservation program would be required. The number of times exposures exceed these noise levels is irrelevant, as long as the employer could have reasonably expected exposure levels to exceed the limits that day (e.g., the noisiest equipment and gauge of metal were being used).

The use of the phrase “vary throughout the work week”, as referenced in the quotation above, may imply that these ‘less than 85 dBA (TWA) to greater than 90 dBA (TWA)’ sound exposure levels will be repeated week after week, throughout an employee’s work life.

OSHA’s Standard Interpretation of January 11, l982, to Mr. Peter S. DeFao, Jr.:  While it may be more difficult to track the noise exposure of some because of their mobility in their jobs, no employee is to be excluded from the hearing conservation program because of intermittent or variable exposures. In arriving at each employee's exposure, employers may use any approach involving measurements or calculations that are considered appropriate. Compliance with the 8-hour, time-weighted average 85 dB exposure level is determined through the integration of all continuous, intermittent and impulsive sounds between 80 dB and 130 dB.

Note that the characterization of this employee’s noise exposure who works a hearing conservation program job for only 1 day can be argued as being neither intermittent nor variable, and as such potentially not required to be in the HCP.

It is widely understood that noise induced hearing loss is typically a long-term acoustic trauma.  Indeed, the Federal noise standard allows 6 months of noise exposure to pass before a baseline audiogram is required to be completed.  While the aforementioned information would seem to indicate that a one-time one-day exposure of 85 dBA TWA or greater requires mandatory HCP inclusion, it may be necessary to have OSHA clarify their position on this specific issue.  Until an OHSA clarification is given, it must be assumed that an employer has no flexibility for employee inclusion in a HCP, i.e., whenever any employee is exposed to a level of 85 dBA TWA or greater they must be included in the HCP.  This can lead to many more employees in the employer’s HCP than initially identified by their sound survey.




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