Hearing Conservation

Hearing Conservation Program

Excessive sound levels or "noise" (unwanted sound) can produce hearing loss that is temporary, permanent, or a combination of temporary and permanent. Since noise-induced hearing loss cannot be repaired or cured, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, Division of Industrial Safety and Health, had adopted a permissible exposure level (PEL, see next paragraph) of an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA) of 85 dBA for noise, which is designed to guard against unnecessary hearing damage (WAC 296-817-20015). Values equal to or below these levels are considered acceptable for industrial noise exposure without the use of hearing protection.

The permissible exposure level refers to a sound pressure (noise) level to which it is believed nearly all workers may be exposed throughout their working lifetime without adverse effects on their ability to hear and understand normal speech.

Incorporated into the PEL is a maximum exposure level or ceiling level for noise. Any exposure above the ceiling level mandates the use of hearing protection regardless of the exposure duration. For continuous noise, the ceiling level is anything above 115 dBA and for impact/impulse noise, the ceiling is at or above 140 dBA.

Western Washington University protects employees exposed to sound levels greater than the PEL by ensuring the use of hearing protectors (earplugs, muffs) supplied at no cost to exposed employees. The University reduces the employee's noise exposure level through feasible engineering controls and/or administrative controls whenever employee noise exposures equal or exceed an 8-hour TWA of 90 dBA (WAC 296-817-20010).

Students in high noise areas are to receive the same hearing protectors and follow the same protective work practices as employees, including training in hearing protection and use of hearing protectors. Baseline and annual audiometric testing is available to students at their own cost.

Although noise level reductions are required, when feasible, to protect the majority of working individuals, noise sensitive workers may still suffer a significant hearing loss at levels below a 90 dBA TWA. To protect these individuals, hearing conservation standards have been adopted (WAC 296-817-100 through 296-817-600).

The hearing conservation standard requires an effective hearing conservation program for employees exposed to noise at or above a TWA of 85 decibels (dB) measured on the A-scale of a sound level meter at slow response or, equivalently, a noise dose of 50 percent as shown on a noise dosimeter. This hearing conservation program is a permanent requirement as long as sound levels remain at or above 85 dBA.

For additional information on the University’s hearing conservation program contact the Environmental Health and Safety office.

Page Updated 11.22.2017