Many jobs expose workers to high levels of noise for significant periods of time, which can lead to irreversible hearing loss. Each year, approximately 22 million workers in the United States are exposed to noise levels that are considered hazardous to their health. Additionally, intense noise can reduce work productivity and contribute to accidents and injuries by making it more difficult to hear warning signals.
A number of factors can contribute to an individual’s hearing loss, including:
- Intensity or sound level of the noise
- Amount of time spent in the noisy area
- Frequency (wavelength) of the noise exposure
- Presence of impulsive noise (intermittent noise)
Your workers should be aware of the following warning signs and symptoms:
- Ringing or humming in the ears when away from work
- Difficulty hearing coworkers who are located close by
- Temporary hearing loss after leaving work
“Intense noise can reduce work productivity and contribute to accidents and injuries by making it more difficult to hear warning signals.”
Protecting Against Noise-related Damage
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets legal limits on . When the noise reaches a specific level, businesses are required to take measures to help reduce the impact and protect workers. The levels are measured as a time-weighted average (TWA) over the course of an eight-hour period as decibels on the A scale (dBA). Employees can be exposed to higher levels of sound for shorter periods or lower levels for longer periods, as long as the total exposure does not exceed the limits set by OSHA.
Hearing Conservation Programs
If workplace noise exposures equal or exceed 85 dBA as an eight-hour TWA, businesses must implement and maintain a hearing conservation program until exposure drops. Noise monitoring must be repeated whenever there are changes that increase noise exposure. A conservation program should:
- Identify exposed workers
- Identify and reduce major noise sources
- Provide hearing protectors
- Conduct audiometric testing
- Train employees on noise effects, protectors, and audiometric exams
Engineering and Administrative Controls
If noise exposure exceeds 90 dBA as an eight-hour TWA, businesses must implement engineering and administrative controls, in addition to a hearing conservation program. Here are some examples of controls:
- Adjust worker schedules or tasks to limit exposure
- Choose low-noise tools and machinery
- Fit compressed air lines with energy-efficient, quiet-design safety nozzles
- Reduce air pressure supplied to equipment to the minimum necessary
- Ensure air-powered tools have mufflers
- Maintain and lubricate machinery and equipment
- Place a barrier between noise sources and employees
- Provide properly fitted hearing protection devices
- Enclose or isolate the noisy source
Employee hearing loss can have a cascading effect, resulting in additional workplace risks. Workers may experience dangerous situations if they can’t hear warning signs, or they may suffer pain as a result of a noise-related injury. Businesses may also experience an increase in workers compensation claims and lost productivity.
Help protect your employees against hearing loss — and protect your business against workers compensation claims. Learn more about workers compensation policies to make sure you’re covered.
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