According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), millions of workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at work each year. While we tend to think of the health repercussions of hearing loss first, as we should, there are also negative financial effects to consider. Last year alone, fines and penalties against businesses that did not adequately protect their workers from high noise levels exceeded $1.5 million. On top of that, another $242 million can be added each year in worker’s compensation for hearing loss disability claims.
How Loud is Too Loud?
Whether they are subjected to constant excessive noise, or sporadic bursts of very loud noise throughout the day, employees are at risk of permanent damage to their hearing and employees can face OSHA citations for not helping to protect them. Therefore, when it comes to safe noise levels, there are two considerations: decibel level and length of exposure. The higher the decibel level, the shorter the length of time employees should be exposed to it. Although many audiologists will tell you that prolonged exposure to noise levels above 70 decibels can damage your hearing, OSHA has set the limit for an eight-hour day at 85 dB. When sound levels surpass 85 decibels and beyond, unprotected hearing becomes much more problematic. OSHA estimates that for every increase of 5 dB, you should have a 50 percent reduction in exposure time. Which means that at 95 dB, you should limit exposure to four hours.
To get a general idea if the noise level at your workplace might be excessive, first ask yourself a simple question: Does an employee have to raise his or her voice to be heard from arm’s length away? There is also a free NIOSH Sound Level Meter App that might be a slightly more scientific way to make a determination if your work environment is excessively noisy. It’s an easy tool to help understand sound levels in your work environments. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/app.html If you’re over 85 dB on the app, then you will want to take additional steps to more know for sure how to proceed.
What can I do about it?
Many industrial companies don't realize that OSHA recommends the completion of a noise and dosimetry study every two years and after any modifications to a work center. A noise dosimeter is a specialized type of sound level meter that is temporarily affixed to an employee, so it will measure noise exposure even when workers move in and out of different environments during their normal workday, and it will take into account exposure to unsustained loud noises as well. If your noise levels exceed OSHA limits (85 dB), then your organization is required to implement a Hearing Conservation Program. These programs are imperative to protecting employee hearing health and employer liability. If you have questions about conducting a noise survey or developing a formalized hearing conservation program, then please reach out to us.
Our team’s NASED Certified Technicians and Occupational Audiologists can conduct noise surveys and dosimetry studies to document facility noise measurements and provide recommended next-steps for OSHA compliance.
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