Hearing Conservation Act – Military Regulations and Program Guidelines

Hearing Conservation Act – Military Regulations

In 1948, the Air Force, Navy, and Army issued regulations or guidelines for hearing conservation programs (Gasaway, 1985). Coast Guard regulation includes sound surveys and monitoring, identification of exposed personnel, application of engineering methods to abate noise, education, and hearing protection.

However, in small manufacturing plants, hearing loss remains a fuzzy concept and often a low priority to managers.

Defining a Hearing Conservation Program

The OSHA Noise Standard requires that a hearing conservation program must be developed and implemented to prevent workers from experiencing standard threshold shifts (STSs). This includes monitoring, education, training, protective equipment, and record keeping. The military service regulations differ slightly, with the Navy and Air Force having specific guidelines.

Defining a hearing conservation program can be done by reviewing existing records and policies or enlisting outside subject matter experts. Some companies also conduct routine evaluations of their programs. These may be conducted periodically or annually and are used to determine whether the programs are achieving their goals.

The military services established hearing conservation programs in the late 1940s and early 1950s, as concerns grew over the impact of jet engine noise on the service members’ hearing (Gasaway, 1985). Each service issued major revisions to their program guidelines in 1978, including requirements for sound surveys, posting of hazardous areas with warning signs, noise abatement, personal hearing protection, and audiometric testing.

Defining a Noise Exposure Standard

In general, when employee noise exposures are above the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) action level of 85 dBA for an 8-hour time-weighted average or above 140 dB peak sound pressure level for impulse or impact noise, a continuing effective hearing conservation program must be administered. This includes ensuring all personnel receive annual audiograms and use appropriate hearing protection.

Where a work location’s exposure levels are expected to remain below the action level after implementing engineering or administrative controls, EHRS will notify the affected employees and their OM, by written memorandum, that they are no longer required to participate in the hearing conservation program. This may include providing them with annual audiograms and allowing them to continue using the same type of hearing protectors.

The Army first published a document describing its hearing conservation program in 1956, and it was revised in 1965 and 1972. The Air Force and the Navy also issued a variety of documents and regulations on their respective hearing programs, such as Air Force Technical Bulletin 40-501: Noise and Conservation of Hearing in 1948 and 1949 (Nixon, 1998).

Defining a Hearing Test

In the military, the hearing conservation program is a decentralized effort managed by each service’s individual installations. Nevertheless, the program as a whole is overseen by a central office. The Air Force has a program evaluation system that provides yearly statistics at the installation level on positive and negative STS cases and compliance with monitoring requirements (Ohlin, 2005c).

While hearing protection is an obvious part of any HCP, there are many other important components such as noise assessment, audiometric testing, and education. These are all essential in assessing the need for engineering/administrative controls and determining work-relatedness of hearing loss.

In 1978, a DoD Instruction established uniform guidelines for all services to eliminate occupational noise-related hearing loss and reduce costs associated with claims for disability compensation. These included noise surveys, the posting of hazardous areas with warning signs, acoustical treatment, personal hearing protection, audiometric testing (preplacement, periodic, and termination audiograms for all personnel exposed routinely to hazardous noise) and recordkeeping.

Defining a Hearing Protection Device

Since the 1979 regulation was promulgated, industry, universities and professional organizations have conducted research on hearing protection in real world settings. This research indicates that the current testing method does not accurately reflect how a protector performs in different noise environments. In addition, there are concerns about the ability of the current labeling requirement to reduce administrative, economic and technical impacts on manufacturers, distributors and users of hearing protection products.

The selection of a proper HPD is complex and depends on several factors, including how the device fits (good seal) and its compatibility with other PPE. EHS helps employees to select a comfortable, compatible HPD that provides the attenuation needed for their work environment.

It is always preferable to eliminate a hazard or reduce the level of exposure through Buy Quiet programs, but when the hazard cannot be eliminated or reduced with engineering or administrative controls, the use of HPDs should be considered. HPDs are a critical component of any sound program and must be carefully selected, fit, used, maintained, and inspected.

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