OSHA regulations on occupational noise exposure consider two factors: the level of noise in decibels (dBA) and the length of time exposed to a level of noise. First, manufacturers have to determine their work environment’s noise levels using a Sound Level Meter (SLM) or Audio Dosimeter. A SLM provides real-time indication of current noise levels at a certain location while the dosimeter is attached to a person to record and calculate the average noise levels from wherever that person is throughout the day.
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Mike, what do I need to do to be compliant with noise laws?
OSHA regulations on occupational noise exposure consider two factors: the level of noise in decibels (dBA) and the length of time exposed to a level of noise.
First, manufacturers have to determine their work environment’s noise levels using a Sound Level Meter (SLM) or Audio Dosimeter. A SLM provides real-time indication of current noise levels at a certain location while the dosimeter is attached to a person to record and calculate the average noise levels from wherever that person is throughout the day. SLM are good for the initial “spot check” of equipment and general area noise levels. Dosimeters help you determine the true exposure over time. Most modern dosimeters calculate and display the average noise levels and the noise “dose” as it compares to the OSHA standard, as well as the peak noise levels and duration. Manufacturers can buy or rent SLMs or dosimeters and perform monitoring themselves, or they can contract with an Industrial Hygiene service or hospital’s occupational medicine department to obtain the service.
Where the eight-hour Time-Weighted Average (TWA) noise levels reach 85 dBA, then a Hearing Conservation Program (HCP) must be implemented. In addition to other things, that includes initial and annual “hearing tests” (audiograms) of employees in the affected areas and availability of at least two styles of hearing protection. If the TWA reaches 90 dBA (OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit- PEL), in addition to implementing a HCP the company must investigate engineering controls to reduce noise and implement mandatory hearing protection where noise levels cannot be reduced. Note that if your shifts are longer than eight hours, the PEL decreases below 90 dBA (e.g. 87 dBA for 12-hour shifts).
To reduce the risk of hearing loss and allegations of related Workers’ Comp claims, manufacturers should require and provide basic hearing protection even if noise levels are below 85 dBA. Adding dispensers for compressible foam earplugs throughout a facility is a low-cost way to protect workers’ hearing. Also consider encouraging employees to us the hearing protection at home with loud situations such as mowing lawns, sawing wood, or using firearms. Manufacturers should also consider administering pre-employment hearing tests to establish a baseline for all employees. Attorneys in some states have been successful in alleging hearing loss due to workplace noise, but the risk of that is lower when baselines are done and noise level records are maintained.
Being compliant with noise exposure regulations isn’t something that is hard to accomplish, and it provides a huge benefit to your employees. More information and resources about occupational noise are available online from OSHA and the CDC.
This article is provided for informational purposes only, is general in nature, and is not intended to and should not be relied upon or construed as technical, legal, or other professional advice. If legal or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The information presented in this article is based on the most current information available at the time of publication.