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Listen Up: Protecting Your Workers from Hazardous Noise

Noise is one of, if not the most common workplace hazard. OSHA reports that at least 22 million workers are exposed to damaging noise at work each year. Not only can noise permanently damage an employee’s hearing, but it is generally very costly for employers to pay compensation claims for occupational hearing loss. For those reasons, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that employees exposed to a time-weighted average (TWA) of 85 decibels A-weighted (dBA) for an 8-hour shift shall be put into a hearing conservation program as lined out in 29 CFR §1910.95.  At W&M, we help employers evaluate their high noise exposure areas, monitor employee exposure, develop hearing conservation programs, and help with regulatory compliance.

While in the field, we have noticed a common problem with noise monitoring activities conducted by employers. Many employers like to do their own noise monitoring, which is a viable option that can save some money. However, when looking at the data, we often notice that there is a flaw in the way the monitoring is conducted. Many times, when we see their noise data, we notice that the monitoring device is set up incorrectly or that their meters have not been calibrated in a very long time.

Dosimeter threshold settings depend on the purpose of the monitoring.  Dosimeters need to be set to the 80 dBA threshold if you are trying to determine whether an employee exceeded the OSHA Action Level (AL) of 85 dBA and should be included in a hearing conservation program.  Dosimeters should be set to the 90 dBA threshold if you are trying to determine if the noise levels are above the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 90 dBA.  Using the 90 dBA threshold to determine if employees should be included in the hearing conservation program will overlook employees that should be included.   Most dosimeters can obtain separate noise exposure levels based on both the 80 dBA and the 90 dBA threshold simultaneously.  The 80 dBA threshold measures any noise level above 80 dB to calculate the average exposure over 8 hours for comparing to the OSHA Action Level, while the 90 dBA threshold measures any noise level above 90 dBA to calculate the average exposure over 8 hours for comparing to the OSHA PEL.

Once an employee’s noise exposure exceeds the action level, they are required to be placed in a Hearing Conservation Program.  As an employer you are required to include those employees in a Hearing Conservation Program, which includes an annual audiogram, providing hearing protection, training, and noise dosimetry.

Once the damage to your hearing is done, you can’t get it back! So, remember that W&M can help you when it comes to hearing conservation programs and noise monitoring.  We will help ensure that your company is complying with regulatory standards, but most importantly help protect your employees from irreversible damage to their hearing. For any questions regarding hearing conservation and noise monitoring, please contact Josh Maynor, GSP or Conan Reed, GSP.

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