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Managing workplace noise hazards

Workers in various industries are often exposed to high noise levels; the noise can be produced by machinery, equipment, or even other people. When levels increase, exposed workers can be at risk of experiencing hearing damage. Employers must take the necessary steps to anticipate, recognize, evaluate, and control workplace health hazards.

By acknowledging the presence of hazardous noise, businesses are already anticipating potential health risks to mitigate worker illnesses. To further examine the risks, employers can seek industrial hygiene services. Industrial hygienists are professionals that are trained in managing health hazards, and they can assist businesses with identifying hazards in the facility and performing noise sampling tests to gather data about employee exposures.

Noise sampling tests

After noise sampling tests have been conducted, the results should be compared to the permissible exposure limit (PEL) set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is the legal limit for exposure of an employee to a hazard. The current PEL is 90 dBA for all workers for an 8-hour day. If the results show that noise levels approach or exceed this limit, then safety controls must be implemented to protect workers.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) hierarchy of safety controls outlines how hazards can be addressed from the most effective method to the least, as shown in the graphic below.

If an employer is unable to eliminate or substitute the noise, then they can implement other controls, such as installing material noise barriers, developing a formal Hearing Conservation Program, or providing personal protective equipment for workers. In any case, industrial hygienists can help businesses assess and manage health hazards to keep workers safe.

By: Libby Burgher
Loss Control Associate