Reducing Employee Exposure to Noise-August 2016

Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety

August 2016

IN THIS ISSUE: Reducing Employee Exposure to Noise

Every year thousands of workers suffer from hearing loss due to high workplace noise levels. The good news is that hearing loss due to noise exposure is preventable. OSHA has determined that exposure to 85 decibels time weighted average for an 8-hour day can cause hearing damage. By reducing employee exposure to below this level, most work-related hearing loss can be eliminated.

Identify noisy processes and employees exposed to high noise.

  • Determine what are the high noise sources. Using a sound level meter pinpoint the equipment and processes that exceeds 85 dBA. An inventory of noisy equipment can be plotted on a map.
  • Determine which employees are exposed to noise greater than the equivalent of 85 dBA exposure for an 8 hour day. Conduct a noise dosimeter survey to identify jobs with high noise exposure.
  • If noisy equipment is an area with high employee noise exposure and contributes to the noise level, it should be prioritized for remediation. If noisy equipment is not near where employees work, it may not being contributing to their exposure and may be disregarded. For example, compressors that are located outside may not be significant sources of employee noise exposure.

Implement noise controls. They are the first line of defense against excessive noise exposure. With the reduction of even a few decibels, the hazard to hearing is reduced, communication is improved, and noise-related annoyance is reduced. There are several ways to control and reduce worker exposure to noise in a workplace. Many are inexpensive.

  • Inspect noisy equipment. Is it running as designed? Are belts, bearings, motors, etc. Is the equipment properly maintained and lubricated? Check with the manufacturer to see if they have a noise rating and if it is meeting that rating.
  • Is this process necessary? If possible, eliminate noisy processes.
  • Separate noisy machinery to reduce compounding effects of noise.
  • Are there other machinery and tools that are less noisy? Only purchase equipment that will not damage employee hearing. See NIOSH Power Tools Data Base.
  • Is the point of operation, the cause of the noise? If so, lower rpms, use alternative cutting materials, or tooling to reduce the noise.

Other engineering controls may include the following:

  • Install mufflers on motors.
  • Place a barrier between the noise source and employees. Examples include sound walls, curtains, and isolation of the operator in control room or booth.
  • Move machine controls further away from the noise source.
  • Install sound absorbing materials in and around the equipment.
  • Enclose or isolate the noise source.
    For further information on noise controls see the NIOSH Industrial Noise Control Manual.

Implementation of a hearing conservation program along with the use of hearing protection should only be conducted as a last resort or only once all feasible engineering and administrative controls have been implemented and noise levels are still high. As with most personal protective equipment, hearing protection has limited effectiveness. It is always best to lessen noise levels and eliminate the hazard.

For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or visit us at
OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries. This newsletter is published monthly by OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety Services, Inc. Feel free to forward it to friends and colleagues.

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