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ASSE Suggests OSHA Lower Workplace Noise Exposure Levels

Posted in on Wed, Feb 29, 2012

DES PLAINES, IL (February 29, 2012) – Adding to previous comments opposing OSHA’s Interpretation of Provisions for Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls of Occupational Noise, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) suggested in a letter this week to OSHA’s Assistant Secretary David Michaels that a more valuable measure to reduce noise exposures for workers would be to lower OSHA’s permissible exposure limit (PEL) for noise from 90 dBA (decibel) to 85 dBA.

  Currently, the OSHA standard calls for employers to use administrative or engineering controls rather than
personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce noise exposures that are above
acceptable levels when such controls are feasible.  OSHA is currently revising its current
enforcement policy to reflect this interpretation. Noise intensity is measured in dBA and time of exposure to noise is
measured in hours and minutes.

“We urge OSHA to focus its efforts on achieving a more effective measure to protect workers from hearing loss that, if taken, would make it much more important that OSHA carefully consider any future effort to pursue the proposed change in its economic feasibility interpretation,” ASSE President Terrie S. Norris, CSP, ARM, CSPI, wrote. “Our members believe to help reduce noise exposures to employees it would be best to lower OSHA’s PELs from 90 dBA with a 5 dBA exchange rate to 85 dBA with a 3 dBA exchange rate for all workers for an eight hour day. This is a widely accepted practice among our members.”

Norris noted that in the relatively small number of workplaces where economic feasibility is a pressing issue, engineering controls become exponentially more expensive and difficult to achieve for some employers. In such situations, Norris noted, there will be employers who now adequately protect workers from noise with PPE but, if pressed to invest in engineering controls on old equipment, would find it more difficult to keep a workplace in business, unfortunately.  At the lower PEL, engineering controls can become more expensive and difficult to achieve, adding to the reasons OSHA should not pursue a new economic feasibility interpretation, Norris said.  ASSE also urged OSHA to communicate more widely its stated practice of working cooperatively with employers to achieve incremental improvement in noise levels over reasonable periods of time.

“Instead of trying to make more difficult an already tough decision for some employers, ASSE urges OSHA to focus on the overall gains that can be made in a lower PEL for noise,” Norris said.

Founded in 1911, the 100-year-old Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the oldest professional safety society. Its more than 34,000 occupational safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professional members are committed to protecting people, property and the environment.  For more information on this issue please go to or to


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