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OSHA Standards for Noise Levels in the Workplace

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The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration reports that preventable noise-related hearing loss is a work-related hazard affecting millions of people each year. High noise causes both temporary and permanent hearing loss, depending on the amount and length of exposure. Other effects of noise exposure include stress, reduced productivity, interference with communication and concentration. Noise also contributes to accidents and injuries. Because of this, OSHA has developed regulations to address occupational noise levels in the workplace. Managers in noisy work environments must know and follow the OSHA rules.

OSHA’s Occupational Noise Exposure Regulation

OSHA’s occupational noise exposure regulation standard number 1910.95 requires employers to protect workers when there are continuous high noise levels. The regulation states that continuous high noise levels must be measured with standard sound-level meters and that employers must try to implement feasible noise controls. If those fail to reduce exposure levels, personal protective equipment must be provided. Additionally, when employees are exposed to continuous high noise levels, OSHA requires employers to administer an effective and ongoing hearing conservation program.

Noise Levels Requiring Action

Noise levels for which OSHA requires employers to take action to protect employee hearing are for continuous noise at graduated levels for specific lengths of time. For example, exposure exceeding eight hours of continuous noise at 90 decibels; six hours of continuous noise at 92 decibels; and four hours of continuous noise at 95 decibels requires protective action by employers. The exposure level for impulse or impact noise levels is 140 decibels.

Hearing Conservation Programs

OSHA requires employers to implement an effective hearing conservation program when work noise can’t be reduced. OSHA’s definition of an effective hearing conservation program includes measures and records of noise levels, tests of employee hearing, monitoring of employees with hearing loss, providing effective personal protective equipment, and keeping good program records. Employers also must notify employees who are exposed to high noise levels of the hearing conservation program. Hearing testing for the program must be provided to employees at no cost, and must be conducted by a licensed or certified professional recognized by the Council of Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation. Other OSHA requirements for an effective hearing conservation program include selecting the right earphones to reduce exposure and training workers how to properly use earphones and other hearing protection equipment.

Consequences of Noncompliance

Employers who fail to comply with OSHA standards for legal noise limits face liability for personal injury lawsuits, inspection, monitoring, penalties and fines from OSHA.