Employers must conduct audiometric tests in a room meeting specific background levels and with calibrated audiometers that meet American National Standard Institute (ANSI) specifications of SC-1969.
Noise, or unwanted sound, is one of the most pervasive occupational health problems. It is a by-product of many industrial processes. Sound consists of pressure changes in a medium (usually air), caused by vibration or turbulence. These pressure changes produce waves emanating away from the turbulent or vibrating source. Exposure to high levels of noise causes hearing loss and may cause other harmful health effects as well. The extent of damage depends primarily on the intensity of the noise and the duration of the exposure.
Noise-induced hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. Temporary hearing loss results from short-term exposures to noise, with normal hearing returning after period of rest. Generally, prolonged exposure to high noise levels over a period of time gradually causes permanent damage.
The hearing conservation program requires employers to monitor noise exposure levels in a way that accurately identifies employees exposed to noise at or above 85 decibels (dB) averaged over 8 working hours, or an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).
Audiometric testing monitors an employee’s hearing over time. It also provides an opportunity for employers to educate employees about their hearing and the need to protect it. The employer must establish and maintain an audiometric testing program. The important elements of the program
include baseline audiograms, annual audiograms, training, and followup procedures. Employers must make audiometric testing available at no cost to all employees who are exposed to an action level of 85 dB or above, measured as an 8-hour TWA.
The audiometric testing program followup should indicate whether the employer’s hearing conservation program is preventing hearing loss. A licensed or certified audiologist, otolaryngologist, or other physician must be responsible for the program. Both professionals and trained technicians may conduct audiometric testing.
The professional in charge of the program does not have to be present when a qualified technician conducts tests. The professional’s responsibilities include overseeing the program and the work of the technicians, reviewing problem audiograms, and determining whether referral is necessary.
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