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Safety Matters: Hearing Protection – How Loud Is Too Loud?

Provided by: Three Sixty Safety

Hearing Protection – How Loud Is Too Loud?

According to the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, around 46% of all workers in manufacturing have been exposed to hazardous noise at some point during their employment. Things like rotors, power tools, stators, gears, fans, impact processes and electrical machinery can all generate significant levels of noise, which, in turn, can negatively impact your 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 Safety Matters provides a general overview of these regulations and ways you can stay safe on the job.

OSHA’s Noise Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL)

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.

There are two specific noise measurements to keep in mind when it comes to hearing protection and workplace safety—the action level and permissible exposure limit (PEL):

  1. Action level—For noise, OSHA’s action level is 85 dBA averaged over an eight-hour workday. When workplace noise reaches this level, employers are required to implement a hearing conservation program and offer hearing protection.
  2. 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.

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. Common symptoms of hearing loss include the following:

  • Straining to understand conversations
  • Needing to have things repeated frequently
  • Increasing television or radio volumes to excessive levels
  • Ringing in your ears or feeling dizzy

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, speak with your doctor and supervisor. To further protect yourself in the workplace, it’s important to be aware of adverse noise levels that can lead hearing loss, and follow all relevant workplace safety policies and procedures.

For questions regarding workplace noise and safety, speak with your supervisor.

This Safety Matters flyer is for general informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical or legal advice. 

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