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MSHA News Release No. 99-0909
Mine Safety and Health Administration - USDOL
Contact: Kathrine Snyder
Phone: 703-235-1452

Released Thursday, September 9, 1999

NEW STANDARDS ADD PROTECTIONS FOR MINERS EXPOSED TO NOISE

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is issuing new health standards to protect miners from hearing loss associated with prolonged exposure to damaging levels of noise. Hearing loss is one of the major health problems miners face.

"We saw that some 36,000 miners now on the job were at risk of hearing loss if they were not protected," Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman said. "With the new rules, as many as two-thirds of new cases can be prevented." The Mine Safety and Health Administration is part of the Labor Department.

The new MSHA noise rules for the first time require mine operators to enroll miners in a hearing protection program if they are exposed to an average sound level of 85 decibels (85 dBA) or more over an eight-hour period. The program will include training, hearing tests and providing protectors such as ear plugs. Training will cover the dangers of noise exposure, the benefits of using protectors and how to use them. Use of hearing protectors at that noise level will be voluntary, as will the hearing tests. But mine operators must offer miners the protectors and the testing.

The exposure limit allowed in the work environment remains unchanged at 90dBA over an eight-hour period. Where feasible engineering and administrative controls cannot reduce the noise in the working environment to the exposure limit, the rule requires hearing protection. The new standards provide uniform requirements to protect coal miners as well as metal and nonmetal miners.

"Physicians and hearing specialists recognize that workers' hearing is adversely affected by noise exposures at or over 85 dBA," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "We recognize that this rule will not prevent all cases of hearing loss. We also understand that in some circumstances it is not now technologically or economically feasible to reduce noise levels to 90 dBA. But we plan to work with the mining community in the years ahead to develop new technologies for lowering miners' exposure to hazardous noise."

Mine operators are invited to request an MSHA noise evaluation of their operations before the effective date of the new noise rules, McAteer said.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has identified noise-induced hearing loss as one of the 10 leading work-related diseases and injuries in mining. Hearing loss can cause safety problems in the workplace as well as diminish the quality of life. The loudness and the duration of noise exposure are both factors in causing hearing loss.

MSHA's new noise standards require mine operators to monitor workplace noise exposure and provide for miners and their representatives to observe the monitoring. The standards establish several levels requiring mine operators to take action: Before issuing new noise standards, MSHA requested comments from the public. The agency reviewed the182 written and electronic comments received and the comments of 57 speakers at public hearings on its proposed noise rule.

MSHA's new noise standards will appear in the Federal Register next Monday and will take effect on Sept. 13, 2000.