OSHA GUIDE TO
NOISE AND HEARING SAFETY, HEALTH AND CONSERVATION
by Sandra Noble, President
Noble & Associates Consulting,
"Between 1990 and 2050 the number of hearing-impaired Americans will
increase at a faster rate than the total US population." Loud
noises are more than a nuisance. - They can cause hearing loss.
OSHA has a vital role in rescuing the ears of the American worker.
One of the occupational hazards of living in the modern
industrial age is noise exposure, both in and away from the workplace.
Acoustic noise can be defined as unwanted sound and sounds louder than
80 decibels (dB) are considered potentially dangerous. According to the
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD),
more than 30 million Americans are regularly exposed to hazardous sound
levels. According to the EPA the number of people exposed to work
induced noise damage is around 9 million.
Noise is considered a necessary evil and the insidious effects of
exposure above acceptable levels are generally not realized, mostly
because there are no visible effects. The primary effect of excessive
noise is hearing loss, either temporary or permanent, depending on the
level and duration of exposure. What is even less well known are the
secondary effects ranging from sleep disturbances: stress and fatigue,
irritability, annoyance and lack of concentration. Noise induced lack of
attention and the consequent loss in efficiency are matters of prime
concern in the workplace. Not only is productivity impaired, but chances
of accidents, impinging on worker and workplace safety, are also
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has
developed regulations for acceptable threshold limits of noise in the
workplace and mitigation of excessive noise. The 29 CFR standards
1910.95 Occupational noise exposure, lays down permissible exposure
limits for different durations of exposure. The recommend exposure
level, as per the standard, is 85 dB A on an 8-hour time-weighted
average (TWA) basis. If this limit is exceeded, feasible administrative
or engineering controls are to be utilized. If such controls fail to
reduce sound levels within the permissible exposure limits, personal
protective equipment (PPE) is to be provided. Further, irrespective of
the reduction of noise exposure to 85 dB A or below with the use of PPE,
the employer is to implement a hearing loss protection program.
The 1910.95 standard refers to the mandated hearing protection program
as the “Hearing conservation program". This program has five operational
parts mandated: (1) Noise monitoring (2) Audiometric Testing (3)
Employee Training (4) Hearing Protectors and (5) Record Keeping.
Sound levels in the workplace must be measured to ascertain which
employees to include in the program, the need for hearing protection
equipment and its suitability.
All employees in the program must be subjected to a base line
audiometric test to determine pre-existing hearing loss, if any. Annual
tests are to be carried out thereafter to asses the effectiveness of the
program and for appropriate remedial action as necessary. The standard
specifically requires that the audiometric tests be carried out by duly
qualified personnel under the supervision of an audiologist,
otolaryngologist or physician.
All employees in the program must receive annual training on the effects
of noise on hearing, hearing protection devices and the purpose of
Hearing protection devices must be made accessible to all employees in
Records of employee exposure (sound measurement), acoustic or exhaustive
audiometer calibration, and audiometric test records must be updated.
These records are to be maintained for specific periods of time.
Experience has shown that effective hearing loss protection programs are
universally beneficial and that both employer and employees stand to
gain from the programs. The employees are protected from hearing loss,
fatigue and general debility. The employer benefits from improvement in
employee morale and productivity and will also enjoy reduced medical and
worker compensation costs.
OSHA Regulation Explained For Business Owners &
Sandra Noble MBA, CPIM, Six
CDP, is president of
Noble & Associates Consulting which specializes in I.T. Needs /
Strategy Assessments, unbiased Software Selection assistance, and curing
Post Implementation Distress™. We also have full life cycle
implementation expertise in SAP, Oracle and other enterprise-wide
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Noble & Associates Consulting, Inc.