The Importance of Noise Monitoring and the OSHA Hearing Conservation Program

On-the-job hearing loss affects employees in a wide range of industries, including agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, transportation and the military. Employees of automotive repair shops, faced with continual banging, the use of pneumatic tools, and other loud noises, are particularly vulnerable.

The OSHA Hearing Conservation Program (HCP) focuses on controlling hazardous noise in the workplace, and adhering to this program can make a big difference in protecting the team members. A new focus by OSHA on hearing protection emphasizes the importance of safeguarding employees.

A Lifelong Problem

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at work each year, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that more than 4 million production workers—more than one in six—are exposed to hazardous noise. These hazards come from continual noise, but also what is referred to as irregular “percussive noise” such as hammering and blasting, including the use of air hammers or air chisels. While hearing loss can be mitigated with ear plugs and other safety PPE, OSHA estimates that more than half of U.S. manufacturing workers are not using hearing protection. Even when devices are available, many employees wear them improperly, or find them uncomfortable, and so don’t use them at all.

Unfortunately, ignoring proper hearing protection has lifelong consequences. While a team member may only be with your business for a few months or years, continual exposure to loud noises can cause permanent hearing loss. Team members may lose the ability to hear high frequency sounds or understand speech, and their ability to communicate may be impaired. This hearing loss cannot be corrected through surgery or with medicine.

The OSHA Hearing Conservation Program

To protect workers, OSHA requires employers to implement a hearing conservation program when the average noise exposure over eight working hours reaches or exceeds 85 decibels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compares this to the sound of city traffic (while inside a vehicle) or a gas-powered leaf blower.

Per the OSHA Hearing Conservation Program, noise may be a problem in your workplace if employees:

  • Hear ringing or humming when they leave work
  • Must shout to be heard by a coworker an arm’s length away
  • Experience temporary hearing loss when leaving work

Increased OSHA Enforcement

Recently, OSHA received a funding increase to their enforcement budget which will lead to more frequent inspections and stricter penalties. This increased funding specifically includes a new focus on workplace safety. Among those issues addressed is hearing loss, which has helped spur the creation of the Midwest Regional Emphasis Program (REP) for “scheduling and conducting inspections of select manufacturing industries” with high hearing loss rates.

Because of this emphasis, employers should take proactive steps now so they avoid the risk of heavy fines and other penalties. These steps start with noise measurement and may include the implementation of mandatory noise PPE. A hearing conservation program must also include enforcement of wearing hearing protection when noise exposure is greater than an average of 90 decibels per eight-hour day. Using it should not be optional, and the program should include training on how to wear hearing protection correctly.

How to Measure Sound

Measuring noise levels and workers’ noise exposure is the first step toward an effective hearing conservation program. By measuring noise levels throughout your facility, you can identify which work locations have noise problems and which employees may be affected. Businesses are not technically required to do a noise evaluation unless their noise levels exceed 85+ decibels, but without a noise evaluation, it’s nearly impossible to know your levels.

Workplace noise levels can be measured with sound level meters or noise dosimeters. Sound level meters measure the intensity of a sound at a given moment. With a sound level meter, it is necessary to take measurements throughout the day, and in many different locations. The workday exposure is then estimated. This approach generally produces uneven results, and the formulas to determine workplace exposure can be complicated.

A dosimeter, on the other hand, stores noise level measurements over time, such as throughout the entire 8-hour workday, and provides an easily read average noise exposure. These devices are worn by an employee, attached to their clothing. Since these devices travel with employees, and employees are seldom in one location for an entire day—shifting locations and being involved in a variety of responsibilities—these devices produce much more useful readings. Typically, one or two employees within the same department will wear the device, which are representative of the noise levels experienced by the entire team. New readings should be taken every time there is a significant change in machinery or production process that results in increased noise levels.

How GMG EnviroSafe Helps

We help facilities, including auto repair shops, develop their OSHA Hearing Conservation Program and ensure they are meeting all OSHA requirements. We begin with a thorough noise evaluation using dosimeters, and provide mitigation suggestions which will likely include PPE, but may also include suggestions to enclose equipment, move equipment, how to deaden noise, provide hearing tests and more. Our team is experienced discovering the problems and communicating the steps you need to resolve them.

Contact us to get your OSHA Hearing Conservation Program started soon, so you can protect your workers ASAP.