Protecting Against Occupational Noise Exposure

May 11, 2021


According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), about two million workers in the U.S. are exposed to hazardous noise each year. NIOSH estimates about 24% of hearing difficulty among workers is caused by occupational exposures to loud noise or ototoxic chemicals which can lead to Occupational Hearing Loss (OHL):

  • Noise is considered hazardous when it reaches or exceeds 85 decibels (power tools and jackhammers exceed 85db)
  • Ototoxic chemicals—which include solvents, metals and compounds, asphyxiants and nitriles—can cause OHL and/or make the ear more susceptible to the damaging effects of hazardous noise.

While OHL is more likely for those who work in industries such as construction and manufacturing, NIOSH also reported hearing loss in workers across a wide variety of industries, such as solid waste, urban planning and community development. Hearing loss was also reported among so-called low-risk sectors such as professional and technical services, and elementary and secondary schools. OSHA does provide standards for occupational noise exposure, which include the following:

  • Hearing conservation program and monitoring. Workers should only be exposed to a maximum sound level of 85 decibels during an eight-hour shift. For each five-decibel level increase above 85 decibels, the maximum exposure time should be cut in half. Exposure to sounds over 85 decibels for extended periods can cause permanent hearing loss.
  • Proper hearing protection (e.g., earplugs, ear muffs and other devices) worn whenever noise levels are above 85 decibels
  • Annual hearing check. Workers at risk of hazardous noise exposure should get an annual check-up to assess any changes in hearing to prevent permanent damage

OSHA in 2016 reported that hearing loss disability cost businesses an estimated $242 million annually in workers’ compensation. For more information or how Vanguard can help your company ensure workplace safety and OSHA compliance to occupational noise exposure, please visit our website or call  210-495-1950.