The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation has announced it has received funding and approval to update hearing protector testing and labeling regulations which have been pending since 2003. EPA is considering test methods and rating for the following: 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 to revised to mean Noise Reduction Range; and the new rating should be subtracted from A-weighted noise levels, not C-weighted as the current NRR requires.
Brad Witt, Audiology and Regulatory Affairs manager for the Bacou-Dalloz Hearing Safety Group, has posted an analysis of what the new regulations might mean for the industry on the company's website at www.hearingportabl.com. The document, entitled, "What You Need to Hear," is available as a free PDF download. Witt says that the EPA has expressed interest in adopting a rating system that can accommodate non-standard hearing protectors, such as active noise reduction or level-dependent protectors, and would like the new NRR label to accurately include these level-dependent protectors so that purchasers can make informed choices. 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 this 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.