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Noise in the Workplace

jackhammerSome workplaces can have dangerous noise levels. About one in 12 workers exposed to loud noise in the workplace will develop hearing loss.

Risk of hearing loss depends on volume and length of time exposed to noise. Hearing loss from noise usually occurs over time. Risks of exposure to loud noise include:

  • Temporary hearing loss, which can last a few hours or a few days
  • Permanent hearing loss if you’re often exposed to loud noises
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, which can be temporary or permanent
How loud is too loud?
  • Long-term exposure to noise above 85 decibels (dBA) can eventually damage your hearing.
  • If co-workers are shouting to be heard – noise levels are too high.
What are the early signs of hearing loss?
  • Difficulty understanding speech.
    • You can hear the words, but can’t understand them.
    • You often ask others to repeat what they’ve said.
    • You feel like people are always mumbling when they are talking.
  • Ringing or buzzing in your ears.
  • Difficulty hearing conversations on the telephone.
  • Needing to turn the TV or radio volume up louder than other people in the room prefer.

By the time you realize that you have hearing loss, it may be too late. See a doctor and ask for a hearing test if it is noisy where you work or if you have any of the early warning signs listed above.

What Your Employer Should Do
  • Test noise levels in areas where noise is a problem. Employers should repeat testing whenever changes in the work environment occur.
  • Use engineering controls that reduce noise level to 85dBA.  Protect workers from noise by using controls that lower sound volume.
  • Isolate noisy operations with enclosures and barriers and keep workers away from noise sources.
  • Use quieter equipment and tools.
  • Your employer must use engineering controls when noise levels exceed 90dBA. Provide baseline and annual hearing tests for all employees exposed to noise levels at 85dBA and higher.
  • Provide employee training on the dangers of noise and how to choose and wear hearing protection.
  • Provide hearing protection to all employees exposed to 85dBA and higher.

    Best Practices:  Maintain noise levels below 85dBA in work areas.

How can I protect myself at work?
  • Stay away from noisy areas, if possible.
  • Use noise controls, such as enclosures and mufflers, and maintain equipment to keep noise levels low.
  • Wear hearing protection when noise controls are not available.
  • Get a hearing test. Detect hearing loss early by getting annual hearing tests if you work in noisy areas. Your employer may be required to provide hearing tests.
  • Talk to your employer or call OSHA (1-800-321-OSHA) if you are concerned that noise levels are too high where you work.
Types of Hearing Protection
  • Earplugs are made of foam, rubber or plastic and are available in different sizes. You can also get custom-molded earplugs. Earplugs that fit properly offer a high level of protection. 
  • Ear muffs cover the entire ear to keep noise out. Facial hair, glasses or goggles can break the seal of the muff and reduce protection. If you wear glasses or goggles or have heavy sideburns wear earplugs.
  • Canal caps are worn over the ear opening and are good for short use. They offer the least amount of protection from noise.