Safety Tips Hearing conservation Workplace exposure

Limiting exposure to hazardous noise

hearing protection

Photo: Laurentiu Iordache/iStock/Thinkstock

Every year, roughly 30 million people in the Unites States are exposed to hazardous noise at work, according to OSHA. High levels of noise can result in permanent hearing loss for workers. Loud noises can create physical and psychological stress, reduce productivity, and contribute to workplace incidents and injuries caused by difficulty in hearing warning signals, OSHA notes. However, noise exposure for workers can be lessened or eliminated.

Engineering controls

Modifying or replacing equipment are examples of engineering controls that can reduce noise exposure. Other examples include choosing low-noise tools and machinery, enclosing and isolating noise sources, and placing a barrier between the noise source and worker.

Administrative controls

Changes in the workplace that reduce or eliminate worker exposure to noise are known as administrative controls. OSHA suggests operating noisy machines during shifts when as few workers as possible are exposed, limiting the amount of time a worker can spend at a loud source and providing quiet areas for workers to rest.

An effective hearing conservation program

OSHA mandates implementing a hearing conservation program for general industry workers who are exposed to levels of 85 dBA or greater for 8 hours, or for construction workers when an exposure exceeds 90 dBA for 8 hours. An effective hearing conservation program should include:

  • Workplace noise sampling, including personal noise monitoring, which identifies employees at risk from hazardous noise levels
  • Informing workers of their noise monitoring test results
  • Maintaining records of worker hearing tests
  • Implementing comprehensive hearing protection follow-up procedures for workers who exhibit a loss of hearing after completing baseline and yearly audiometric testing
  • Proper selection of hearing protection
  • Training and information that ensures workers are aware of the hazards from excessive noise exposures and how to properly use personal protective equipment
  • Data management of, and worker access to, records regarding monitoring and noise sampling