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Noise Exposure

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Noise Exposure

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1 in 4 construction workers suffers from some degree of hearing loss. Power tools, heavy equipment and even hand tools like hammers can all generate significant levels of noise exposure, which, in turn, can negatively impact hearing.

Prolonged exposure to excessive noise is particularly dangerous and can lead to tinnitus, which is characterized by ringing, buzzing and roaring in the ears. In some cases, harmful levels of noise can lead to permanent hearing loss.

To keep employees safe, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific regulations related to workplace noise exposure. This guidance provides a general overview of these regulations and ways you can protect yourself from noise exposure on the job.

OSHA’s Noise Permissible

Noise is measured in units of sound pressure levels called decibels (dB). Often, decibels are expressed as dBA, which refers to A-weighted sound levels. Essentially, this measurement is more specific than dB alone, as it accounts for relative loudness perceived by the human ear.

To protect workers and their hearing, OSHAhas a specific level of how much noise an employee is allowed to be exposed to called the permissible exposure limit (PEL).Per OSHA, the PEL for noise is 90 dBA over an eight-hour workday. At this level, employees are required to wear hearing protection. In addition, for every 5 dBA above the action level, the duration of employee exposure to noise must be cut in half (e.g., 85 dBA/eight hours, 90 dBA/four hours, 95 dBA/two hours). Furthermore, exposure to noise should not exceed 140 dBA.

Beyond adhering to OSHA’s PEL, employees should avoid noise levels above 85 dBA without protection. OSHA also recommends following the 2-3 foot rule.This rule states that if you have to raise your voice to talk to a co-worker who is 2-3 feet away, you should assume noise levels are 85 dBA or above.

Protecting Yourself From Harmful Noise

Tinnitus and hearing loss can be debilitating and irreversible. However, being aware of the symptoms of hearing loss can go a long way toward ensuring your health and safety at work. Symptoms of hearing loss include the following:

  • Straining to understand conversations
  • Needing to have things repeated frequently
  • Raising television/radio volumes excessively
  • Ringing in your ears or feeling dizzy

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consult a doctor. To further protect yourself, it’s important to be aware of adverse noise levels that can lead to hearing loss, and follow all relevant workplace safety policies and procedures related to hearing protection.

For more safety tips, talk to your supervisor.

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