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Millions Exposed to Potentially Hazardous Noise Levels at Work

Individuals with hearing loss constitute the single largest disability group in America and noise is the number one cause of hearing loss. Nearly 30 million workers are exposed to noise levels that are potentially hazardous to their hearing.

The most common effect of sudden and very high noise levels is chronic damage to the inner ear that results in a gradual hearing loss. The damage is permanent and may not be noticed until the loss of hearing is severe. Although not as dramatic as acute trauma, this type of hearing loss can be more debilitating and the damage cannot be repaired.

Noise monitoring is required to determine whether employees are exposed to hazardous levels of noise. The monitoring will determine whether employee exposure to noise equals or exceeds the action level of 85 dBA or equivalently a noise dose of 50%. In addition, monitoring is done to determine if the permissible noise exposure limit of 90 dBA or equivalently a noise dose of 100% is exceeded. An average of 90 dBA over an eight-hour work period will result in a noise dose of 100%.

It is important to note that as noise levels increase, the action level and permissible noise exposure limits will be exceeded in a shorter period of time. At an average noise level of 95 dBA, the action level will be exceeded after only two hours of exposure and the permissible noise exposure limit will be exceeded after four hours of exposure.

Employee exposure is best determined using a noise dosimeter. The employee wears this device, which has a microphone that is typically worn on the shoulder. The dosimeter records sound data and computes the average noise exposure in dBA and the percent dose and the results are representative of the employee’s noise exposure.

OSHA and MIOSHA also require the implementation of a hearing conservation program when an employee’s exposure meets or exceeds the action level. The main elements of this program are:

  • Noise monitoring which is not typically a one-time occurrence. It is necessary to repeat monitoring when there are changes in machinery, processes, or production levels. This is done to determine if additional employees have exposure at or above the action level.

  • Audiometric testing is required to determine the employee’s threshold of hearing. Audiograms must be offered initially (baseline audiogram) and then annually. Each year, the annual audiogram is compared to the baseline. The main purpose of this testing is to recognize hearing problems and take action before the hearing loss becomes debilitating.

  • Hearing protectors must be provided without cost to the employees. A variety of hearing protectors must be provided. The wearing of hearing protectors is mandatory when the permissible noise exposure level of 90 dBA for eight hours or an equivalent dBA is exceeded, the employee has exposure to noise at or exceeding the action level, and has not had a baseline audiogram or an employee had a standard threshold shift.

  • Employee training must be done annually.

  • Record-keeping Requirements of which there are several.

CFR has a long history of navigating the requirements of OSHA’s hearing conservation standard. CFR Environmental works with industry to serve as their in-house environmental, health and safety (EHS) consultant, including navigating the OSHA Standards to determine which type of initial and annual refresher training programs are required.

Contact CFR to learn more about how we can help meet your OSHA obligations and assist your company with workplace health and safety.

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