ANSI/ASA has published the first standard-setting the criteria that fit-test systems should meet to improve accuracy and reporting of fit test results. This new standard is titled ANSI/ASA S12.71-2018, American National Standard Performance Criteria for Systems that Estimate the Attenuation of Passive Hearing Protectors for Individual Users. This standard is the first of its kind worldwide.
1. What Does this ANSI/ASA S12.71-2018 Standard Seek to Accomplish and is it Mandatory?
The standard contains criteria that equipment manufacturers should apply to their hearing protection fit-test systems to help ensure accurate measurements and transparent reporting of results. In addition, a main requirement of this standard is that fit-test systems be evaluated by comparing their attenuation estimates to attenuation measured using the laboratory method (sometimes referred to as the “gold standard,” real ear attenuation at threshold (REAT) method).
The generic term used in the standard for a hearing protection fit-test system is Field Attenuation Estimation System or FAES. The standard recognizes various technologies and methods for conducting hearing protection fit testing and differentiates minimum requirements for a FAES based on the fit-test method it uses.
Like all ANSI standards, ANSI/ASA S12.71-2018 is a voluntary consensus standard and manufacturers do not have to adhere to it, but science-based developers of hearing protection products will most likely make changes to ensure their fit-test systems comply with this standard.
2. Will PARs be Equal if Different Fit-Test Systems Comply with this New ANSI/ASA S12.71-2018 Standard?
No. While it is possible that two different fit-test systems could produce the same personal attenuation rating (PAR) for a given fit test, it is not likely that every compliant system will produce exactly the same result. The commercially available fit-test systems use different technologies and approaches toward measuring and reporting results. For example:
- Some FAESs report a pass/fail result while others calculate a single numerical PAR.
- Some systems are objective, meaning that a fit test consists of using microphones to measure sound pressure levels, while other systems are subjective, meaning that the listener must make a judgment about some type of acoustical signal.
- Some FAESs use the actual hearing protection device (HPD) during the fit test and others use a modified HPD (or “surrogate” HPD).
There are also differences among the systems, such as how many frequencies are tested. By setting minimum performance criteria for a variety of different technologies, the standard allows manufacturers to comply without strictly limiting the marketplace to one measurement method. Therefore, different FAES types can conform to the standard without generating the same PAR value for the same fit of an HPD.
3. If I Live and Work Outside the U.S., is ANSI/ASA Compliance Important to Me?
Many countries recognize the significance of standardization and currently use ANSI standards in guidance documents or as referenced by regulatory bodies. Although no government currently mandates compliance with this standard, it is possible that future policies could require use of a fit-test system that is compliant.
It is important to note that being compliant with ANSI/ASA S12.71-2018 does not conflict with any other standard or regulation because this is the first and only standard in the world that provides guidance to manufacturers about hearing protection fit-test systems.
To learn more, we invite you to download this complimentary, detailed eBook that explains the new standard, the benefits of fit testing, and why voluntary compliance is advantageous for your hearing conservation program. You can also learn more about the standard by reading this quick blog.