Noise Hazards in the Workplace Explained

Noise Hazards in Construction

Noise hazards are a serious concern in the construction industry, as they can cause permanent hearing loss and other health problems for workers.

OSHA Rules on Noise Hazards

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), noise exposure is one of the most prevalent occupational health hazards in construction. 

OSHA sets legal limits on noise exposure in the workplace, based on a worker’s time-weighted average over an 8-hour day. 

The permissible exposure limit (PEL) for noise is 90 decibels (dBA) for all workers for an 8-hour day. However, many construction processes and equipment generate noise levels above this limit, these include items such as jackhammers, bulldozers, saws, drills, and cranes.

NIOSH Rules on Noise Hazards

NIOSH is a part of the CDC and has its own standards and rules in place for workplace noise hazards that are, in some cases, referenced by OSHA.

NIOSH has a rating system for Personal Protective Equipment which you will frequently see applied to head and ear PPE.

Potential Damage from Noisy Working Environments

Exposure to loud noise can damage the nerve endings in the inner ear, resulting in permanent hearing loss that cannot be corrected by surgery or medical intervention.

Hearing loss can impair a worker’s ability to communicate, to understand instructions, and their ability to avoid hazards. 

It can also affect their quality of life, social interactions, and their mental health. In addition to hearing loss, noise exposure can cause other adverse effects, such as:

  • stress 
  • fatigue
  • hypertension
  • cardiovascular disease 
  • tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Ear Protection PPE
Ear Plug Style Hearing Protection Device

OSHA Hearing Conservation Program

OSHA requires employers to implement a hearing conservation program when noise exposure is at or above 85 dBA averaged over 8 working hours. 

A hearing conservation program consists of several elements, such as noise monitoring, engineering and administrative controls, hearing protection devices (HPDs), audiometric testing, employee training, and recordkeeping. 

The goal of a hearing conservation program is to prevent initial occupational hearing loss, preserve and protect remaining hearing, and equip workers with the knowledge and HPDs necessary to safeguard themselves.

Some examples of engineering and administrative controls to reduce noise exposure are:

  • Using quieter machines and tools
  • Isolating the noise source from workers
  • Enclosing or shielding noisy equipment
  • Installing sound-absorbing materials
  • Limiting the duration and intensity of noise exposure
  • Scheduling noisy tasks during less populated shifts
  • Rotating workers among less noisy tasks

Some examples of Hearing Protection Devices are:

  • Ear plugs
  • Ear muffs
  • Canal caps
  • Custom-molded ear plugs

Selecting Hearing Protection Devices

HPDs should be selected based on the noise level, comfort, fit, and compatibility with other personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Workers should be trained on how to use, maintain, and store their HPDs properly. They should also be informed about the benefits and limitations of HPDs, as well as the potential consequences of not wearing them.

Audiometric testing

Audiometric testing is a method of measuring a worker’s hearing ability over time. It involves testing both ears at different frequencies and comparing the results with a baseline audiogram. If a significant change in hearing threshold is detected, the worker should be notified and referred for further evaluation. Audiometric testing can help identify early signs of hearing loss and motivate workers to protect their hearing.

OSHA 10 Hour Training

Employee training is an essential component of a hearing conservation program.

Workers should be educated about the sources and effects of noise exposure, the purpose and requirements of the program, the methods of noise control and protection, the proper use and care of HPDs, the advantages and disadvantages of different types of HPDs, the role of audiometric testing, and their rights and responsibilities under OSHA standards.

Noise Hazards and Controls are important modules in several OSHA 10 hours courses and the 30 Hour Construction training.

Noise Hazard Recordkeeping Requirements

Recordkeeping is another important element of a hearing conservation program. Employers should keep records of noise exposure measurements, audiometric test results, employee training sessions, and HPD evaluations.

These records can help evaluate the effectiveness of the program, identify areas for improvement, and comply with OSHA regulations.

Noise Hazards: Prevention Summary

Noise hazards in construction are preventable if employers and workers follow OSHA standards and implement a comprehensive hearing conservation program. By reducing noise exposure and protecting their hearing, workers can avoid permanent hearing loss and other health problems that can affect their work performance and quality of life.

Scroll to Top