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Noise and Hearing in OSHA: Protecting the Workplace

OSHA’s Approach to Noise and Hearing to Protect the Workforce

For those who work in industry and manufacturing, noise is an omnipresent companion. The constant hum of machinery, the clatter of tools, and the background buzz of activity form the auditory backdrop of many workplaces.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes that constant exposure to high noise levels can harm workers’ hearing health.

Therefore, OSHA has established regulations and guidelines to safeguard workers from the potential hazards of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), setting limits on noise levels and requiring hearing protection when necessary.

Understanding Noise

Noise is unwanted sound that interferes with the typical auditory environment, causing discomfort, annoyance, or potential harm. Unlike sound, which can be beneficial and informative, noise is often considered disruptive or harmful due to its adverse effects on concentration, communication, productivity, stress and hearing loss over time.

In workplaces, noise can arise from various sources, including machinery, equipment, construction activities, ventilation systems, and social interactions.

These noises can be continuous, intermittent, or impulsive. The unit used to measure noise intensity is the decibel (dB), which is a logarithmic scale representing the ratio of a sound’s pressure to a reference pressure level. The higher the decibel level, the louder the sound.

Importance of Managing Noise in the Workplace

Managing noise in the workplace is essential for several reasons:

Hearing Health

Prolonged exposure to high noise levels can lead to permanent hearing loss, a condition known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). This can have a profound impact on employees’ quality of life both inside and outside of work.


Excessive noise can mask important auditory cues, such as alarms, warnings, or instructions, potentially compromising employee safety.


High noise levels can hinder effective communication between workers, leading to misunderstandings, errors, and reduced teamwork.


Constant exposure to loud noise can increase stress, fatigue, and decreased concentration, ultimately reducing productivity.

Legal and Regulatory Compliance

Regulatory bodies like OSHA set limits and guidelines for workplace noise exposure to protect employees’ hearing health. Employers are required to adhere to these regulations.

OSHA’s Approach to Hearing Protection

OSHA recognizes that prolonged exposure to high noise levels can lead to irreversible hearing damage. As a result, OSHA has set permissible exposure limits (PELs) for noise in the workplace. The PEL for an 8-hour workday is 90 dB, measured using the A-weighted scale (dBA), which adjusts for the human ear’s sensitivity to different frequencies.

When noise levels reach or exceed 85 dBA, employers must train employees regarding the risks of noise exposure and how to use hearing protection effectively. This training covers the health effects of noise exposure, the proper use and care of hearing protection devices, and how to interpret noise exposure monitoring results.

OSHA Limit for Impact Noise

Impact noise refers to sudden, high-intensity sounds, often associated with activities like hammering, gunfire, or explosions. OSHA sets the permissible exposure limit for impact noise at 140 dB peak sound pressure level (dB SPL). When employees are exposed to impact noise levels above this limit, engineering controls and hearing protection must be implemented to prevent potential damage.


OSHA – Occupational Safety and Health Administration

PEL – Permissible Exposure Limit, Legal Limits and Enforceable

NIOSH – US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, A research agency for OSHA

REL – Recommended Exposure Limit

OSHA Guidelines for Hearing Screening

Hearing screening is a vital component of hearing conservation programs. For noise and hearing, OSHA recommends baseline audiometric testing for employees when first exposed to noise levels at or above 85 dBA. This initial test provides a reference point to monitor any changes in hearing ability over time.

Subsequent audiometric tests are then conducted at regular intervals, typically annually, to detect any deterioration in hearing.

If a standard threshold shift (STS) is identified – a significant change in hearing ability – employers must notify the affected employee and provide further evaluation and protection.

Protect Your Workplace

Noise-induced hearing loss is a preventable occupational health concern that can significantly impact the well-being of workers. OSHA’s regulations and guidelines are critical in safeguarding employees’ hearing health in noisy environments.

At Phase Associates, we work with companies to ensure that workers have the knowledge, tools, and protections necessary to preserve their hearing in the face of industrial noise.

As industries continue to thrive, prioritizing hearing conservation promotes a healthier workforce and underscores the significance of maintaining safety in the modern workplace.

Manage Your Workplace Noise with Phase Associates

Employers have a responsibility to mitigate excessive noise in the workplace. This can be achieved through various noise and hearing strategies that Phase Associates can help you implement

Engineering Controls

Measures such as soundproofing, damping, and isolating noisy machinery or equipment can help reduce noise levels at the source.

Administrative Controls

Scheduling noisy tasks during quieter periods, rotating employees to minimize exposure, and creating quiet zones can help manage noise levels.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Providing employees with appropriate hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs, is crucial when noise reduction through other methods is insufficient.

Noise and Hearing: Training and Awareness

Educating employees about noise and hearing, the risks of noise exposure, proper use of hearing protection, and the importance of complying with noise control measures is essential.

To appropriately manage your workplace noise and hearing and adhere to OSHA’s guidelines, contact Phase Associates today.

Our workplace noise and hearing training and programs are offered in the areas of New Jersey, New York (NYC, Albany), Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusettes (Boston), Rhode Island (Providence), Virginia (Alexandria, Arlington), Delaware, New Hampshire (Portsmouth), Maryland (Washington DC, Baltimore), Georgia (Atlanta) and surrounding areas.