OSHA clarifies baseline audiograms for temps
Date Posted: 01/06/2020
In a recent letter of interpretation, OSHA responded to an employer’s question regarding the obligation to establish a baseline audiogram for temporary or seasonal workers. The noise exposure regulation requires establishing a baseline for covered employees within six months, but a temporary employee’s assignment may be less than six months.
In response, OSHA noted that host employers might not need to establish the baseline for temporary workers. If the temps are leased from a staffing agency, however, the host employer and the staffing agency should work together to meet any hearing conservation program requirements.
In the September 2019 letter, OSHA noted that the hearing conservation rule does not provide an exemption for temporary or seasonal workers. All employees exposed to workplace noise levels at or above the action level must be included in an hearing conservation program. However, the letter also referenced an explanation from the preamble of the final rule, stating:
OSHA included the time periods for obtaining a baseline audiogram in sections 1910.95(g)(5)(i) and (ii) to exclude seasonal and temporary workers from the audiometric testing program. OSHA stated that audiometric testing would be administratively difficult or impossible because these workers work for several employers in a season or over the course of a year.
Since that final rule was published in March of 1983, nearly 40 years ago, this provision may not sound familiar. In the letter, OSHA noted that annual testing of temporary workers may not be practical due to short assignments, making a baseline unnecessary, stating:
Accordingly, if a temporary or seasonal employee’s audiometric testing is due after the employee’s term of employment has ended, the employer is not required to establish a baseline audiogram.
The letter of interpretation referenced OSHA's Temporary Worker Initiative Noise Exposure and Hearing Conservation bulletin, which addresses joint responsibilities. As noted, all employees exposed at or above the action level must be in a hearing conservation program, and even one day of exposure will trigger those requirements. However, the bulletin acknowledged that if temps get assigned to multiple employers for short periods of time, the staffing agency may be better positioned to conduct audiometric testing.
The bulletin advised that both parties determine who is responsible for each aspect of the program, and confirm those obligations in writing. For example, the host employer would likely monitor workplace noise levels, select and provide hearing protection, and provide training. The staffing agency may establish a baseline and schedule annual audiograms. The temps would still be part of the host employer’s hearing conservation program, but the staffing agency would handle certain obligations.