In its efforts to encourage increased hearing protection for workers, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) has joined the 85-3 Campaign to confront the "silent epidemic" of occupational hearing loss in the U.S. The 85-3 Campaign recognizes organizations and employers that, as part of their hearing protective strategy for workers, have adopted the 85 dBA (decibel) noise protection level.

Earlier this year, ASSE urged OSHA to focus its efforts to improve hearing protection on lowering its permissible exposure limit (PEL) for noise from the current 90 dBA to 85 dBA. Noise intensity is measured in dBA and time of exposure to noise is measured in hours and minutes.

According to NIOSH, 85-3 is also required in the ANSI/ASSE A10.46 Standard "Hearing Loss Prevention for Construction and Demolition Workers" and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has known the gains in hearing protection 85-3 can achieve for decades.

Hearing loss is a serious problem, says NIOSH. When people are exposed to harmful noise: sounds that are too loud or loud sounds that last a long time: sensitive structures in the inner ear can be damaged, causing noise-induced hearing loss. These sensitive structures, called hair cells, are small sensory cells that convert sound energy into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once damaged, hair cells cannot grow back.

ASSE says with a 40-year lifetime exposure at the 85-dBA REL, the excess risk of developing occupational NIHL is 8%, considerably lower than the 25% excess risk at the 90-dBA permissible exposure limit currently enforced by OSHA. Adoption of the 85-3 level would provide hearing protection for workers across every workplace where noise is a risk.

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