Hearing Protection: Why it is Required in the Workplace


On a daily basis, we are all exposed to noise, including sounds coming from TVs, radios, traffic, and in the workplace. For the most part, this noise is of little consequence, because the noise is at safe levels or exposure times are relatively short. But when we are exposed to loud noise for prolonged periods of time, our hearing can be damaged. Here is what you need to know to keep yourself safe and help your customers understand the dangers of noise and the steps that can be taken to prevent hearing loss.

Hearing Loss

Many factors influence how loud noise seems, but many employers do not realize that permanent hearing loss can occur with common noise, in the workplace, for a prolonged exposure time. Noise that damages the inner ear causes what is called “noise-induced hearing loss” or NIHL. NIHL caused by prolonged exposure to high decibels (dB) of noise is usually permanent.

NIOSH Recommendations

NIHL caused by close proximity to a loud firecracker is immediate. A person’s ears will ring and there will be some temporary hearing loss for a period of time. That NIHL is caused by a very loud sound for a brief fraction of a second. But NIHL in the workplace can take a long time to develop. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommended that all worker exposures to noise should be controlled below a level equivalent to 85 dBA, for eight hours, to minimize NIHL.

OSHA Regulations

In the US, employers are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation 29 CFR 1910.95, Occupational Noise Exposure to provide hearing protection to employees to help prevent noise-induced hearing loss. The CFR requires personal protective equipment to be provided by the employer and used by the affected employees to reduce sound levels, if administrative or engineering controls fail to reduce sound levels within acceptable levels. According to OSHA, a sound level of 90 dBA or higher, for 8 hours, would require that hearing protection be provided by the employer and worn by the employee.

Measure Noise Levels for Your Customers and Employees

There are many sound level apps available to download for free. Simply do a search for “Sound Level App” and download one to your phone or other electronic device. The next time you are at a customer’s property, you suspect has a high level of noise, turn on the app, and get an instant reading. If the reading is 85 dBA or higher, explain the danger to your customer so they can take steps to correct the situation. They will either need to lower the noise level or provide employees with hearing protection. There are many options for hearing protection, but three of the most popular are disposable-foam earplugs, reusable-corded earplugs, and earmuffs. The earmuffs provide the best protection and have a noise reduction rating in the range of 25-26 dB.

Noise-induced hearing loss is often permanent but preventable. Your customers will appreciate you taking sound level readings and providing advice on how they can prevent NIHL in their workplace. Don't forget to take similar action to protect yourself and your employees or co-workers.

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