GAO: Aircraft Cabin Noise is within acceptable standards

aircraft noise chart
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Feds say airplane cabin noise probably not hazardous

OSHA took cabin noise jurisdiction from FAA

Rep. DeFazio asked GAO to assess pilots and flight attendants exposure

GAO finds levels within standards 

Over five years ago, Secretary Foxx, assisted by Administrator Huerta, and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez began a process to redefine where the FAA may regulate and where OSHA may exercise its powers. Among the areas specified in this MoU was that OSHA standards apply to the working conditions of aircraft cabin crewmembers while they are onboard aircraft in operation. The rationale for the jurisdictional incursion was that the

“…FAA has not promulgated standards related standards related to the working conditions addressed by OSHA’s 
hazard communication… Similarly, although there are FAA regulations governing noise levels outside aircraft, 
FAA regulations do not address measures to promote hearing conservation for employees inside the aircraft; 
so, OSHA hearing conservation standards may apply there.”
osha warning

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA publicized this new jurisdiction/ protection to  its members by distributing a pamphlet and posting signs:

AFA noise sign

 

defazioThe ranking Minority Member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure wrote to the Government Accountability Office asking that independent organization to:

provide information on noise levels experienced by crewmembers on commercial service aircraft and their access to hearing protection. We examined:

(1) what is known about aircraft cabin and cockpit noise levels compared with occupational noise exposure standards and

(2) selected airlines’ policies on hearing protection for crewmembers.

Dr. Dillingham authored GAO study 18-109R, 17 pages long, which was summarized as follows:Dr. Dillingham

 

None of the studies GAO reviewed, which included eight that measured noise in the cabin and four that measured noise 
in the cockpit, found levels that clearly exceeded the OSHA standard, though two of the studies found that noise over 
long durations in certain types of aircraft may reach the more restrictive exposure limit published by the National 
Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
NIOSH-logo

OSHA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have received few complaints from crewmembers related to aircraft 
noise levels. For example, since assuming authority to enforce its noise standard in the cabin, OSHA has received 
two complaints related to ambient aircraft noise out of more than 600 complaints related to commercial aviation. 
No reports related to aircraft noise were submitted to four of FAA’s safety-related databases in the last 5 years.
ASRS

Also, over the past 5 years, the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), which is a safety database maintained by the National 
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), has received 10 reports about communications difficulties caused by normal ambient 
noise levels out of more than 26,000 total reports on safety incidents.cabin noise insulation 

Officials from the four aircraft manufacturers GAO spoke with said that they test cabin and cockpit noise levels in each new 
model of aircraft they produce and have found noise levels below OSHA’s standard.
noise zones interior 

Officials from the eight selected airlines in GAO’s review said that they have conducted testing of cabin noise levels and 
have also found noise levels to be below OSHA’s standard.



Officials GAO interviewed from the labor groups representing pilots and flight attendants told GAO that while noise levels 
likely do not exceed the OSHA standard, they believe crewmembers nonetheless are sometimes exposed to unsafe levels of noise 
that could result in fatigue or hearing loss.



noise reduct headsetThe policies reported by the eight airlines GAO spoke with regarding availability and use of hearing protection 
for pilots and flight attendants varied. FAA does not generally prescribe airline policies on hearing protection, 
other than specifying that hearing protection must not interfere with safety-related duties.



Officials from all eight airlines said that they allow pilots to wear hearing protection such as earplugsear plugs 
or noise-reducing headsets, and officials from five of the airlines said that they allow flight attendants to wear ear plugs 
onboard the aircraft in operation.



The GAO requested comments on a draft of this product from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor 
(DOL), and the Department of Transportation (DOT). HHS and DOL provided technical comments, which were incorporated as appropriate, and 
DOT had no comments.

The Report did not include any recommendations for new actions/policies. Nor does the report include any contrary opinions from the Department of Labor, OSHA or NIOSH. One might conclude that the FAA’s past purview of the Aircraft Cabin Noise was not deficient.


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