What To Expect From EPA, Updated Hearing Protector Regulations

The EPA's Office of Air and Radiation receives funding to update protector testing and laeling regulations, which has pending since 2003.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation met with industry leaders in January to announce it has received funding and approval to update hearing protector testing and labeling regulations which have been pending since 2003.

Brad Witt, Audiology and Regulatory Affairs Manager for the Bacou-Dalloz Hearing Safety Group, attended the meeting and provided an analysis of what the new regulations might mean for industry.

“For nearly thirty years, the EPA has used the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) as its yardstick to measure hearing protector effectiveness in reducing noise levels,” Witt said. “This current EPA regulation uses idealized laboratory testing to generate the NRR. The proposals under consideration test the hearing protectors under conditions that are less-than-ideal, but more reflective of real-world usage.”

As outlined in Witt’s paper, "What You Need to Hear," the EPA is considering test methods and rating systems with the following features:

  • New testing standards to replace the experimenter-fit method of the previous ANSI standard.
  • New ratings that should not require de-rating for field use, but will possibly include a two-number range that expresses the attenuation expected from proficient users as well as inexperienced users.
  • The "NRR" acronym should remain, but will possibly be revised to mean "Noise Reduction Range."
  • This new rating should be subtracted from A-weighted noise levels, not C-weighted as the current NRR requires.

A timetable has been established to finalize the new regulations, with a proposed rule published in the Federal Register by mid-year 2007, followed by a public comment period, hearings and internal review. According to the timetable, EPA expects to have a final noise reduction regulation in place by the end of 2007, with an effective date perhaps a few years following to allow manufacturers to retest their products and print new packaging.

Howard Leight Industries has grown over the last 30 years from a one-man operation into one of the largest manufacturers of in-ear hearing protection in the industrial market and is widely recognized as an innovator in protection and fit. Since 2001 Howard Leight has been a part of the Bacou-Dalloz Hearing Safety Group.

The entire papers, "What You Need to Hear," can be downloaded clicking here.

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