In 1981, OSHA introduced a new regulation requiring employers to implement a hearing conservation program for workers who are exposed to an average noise level of 85 dBA or higher during an eight-hour shift. Hearing conservation programs require employers to measure noise levels; provide free annual hearing exams, hearing protection, and training; and conduct evaluations of the adequacy of the hearing protectors in use unless the employer makes sufficient changes to tools, equipment, and schedules so that conditions are less noisy and worker exposure is less than the 85 dBA.

Monitoring can help employers ensure that they are adhering to OSHA regulations. Measuring for noise exposure does not have to take a lot of time or cost the business a lot of money due to the use of external resources. A successful noise monitoring program can be carried out on-site, by trained health and safety managers, using either a sound level meter or a dosimeter.

Workplace Noise Monitoring Solutions
There are two tools that measure for noise exposure levels—a sound level meter and a noise dosimeter. The distinction is simple: a sound level meter is a hand-held device that measures noise exposure in the workplace or environment, and noise dosimeters are small devices worn by the worker for an entire working shift that are used to measure personal noise exposure levels.

Sound level meters. Sound level meters make it possible to calculate a record of daily exposure. There are two types of sound level meters available—Type 1 and Type 2—and the application will determine which instrument you will need. Type 1 is typically seen as more accurate, ideal for environmental applications, boundary noise, building acoustics, and for traffic assessments. A Type 2 sound level meter is a “general grade” meter, suitable for noise at work assessments, basic environmental measurements, industrial hygiene, and construction and vehicle noise.

Noise dosimeters. Dosimeters instantly log data and can detail the time history of the noise exposure, highlighting where high exposures occur throughout the day. Modern noise dosimeters can also record the actual audio, which allows the sound to be played back to determine the source of the exposure. With noise dosimeters, it is important to remember that measurements may be subject to spurious results from employees, especially when first used. High exposures or spikes in the dataset should be checked to see if they are a legitimate part of the workers’ exposure.

Noise monitoring is quick and simple. The monitors are easy to operate, allowing insights into workplace noise exposure to be collated for all types of jobs. By investing in monitoring solutions, employers can improve health and safety in the workplace and prevent employees from developing hearing issues and suffering from long-term consequences as a result of their working conditions.

Steve Ochs is Casella’s area business manager supporting the company’s health, safety, and environmental boundary monitoring solutions.

Casella is dedicated to reducing occupational health and environmental risks and supporting businesses in solving their monitoring and analysis needs. For more information about Casella’s noise monitoring solutions, visit the company’s website.

Resources “The Connection Between Alzheimer’s and Hearing Loss” (April 2018).

CDC: “Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2012” (PDF, February 2014).

Consumer Reports: “The Many Health Effects of Noise” (March 2019).

By Steve Ochs

According to OSHA, 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at work each year. The agency notes that U.S. businesses paid more than $1.5 million in penalties for not adequately protecting their workers from noise exposure last year.

Exposure to high noise levels can cause permanent, irreversible hearing damage, which can lead to serious health issues and prevent workers from operating at their best. Occupational hearing loss—one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States—also has the potential to damage workers’ quality of life. It is a major health problem, yet it is 100 percent preventable. The key to prevention is in understanding the risks and consistently acting to minimize them.

Health Implications
Research shows that noise exposure is not only damaging to hearing but can also impact general health in other ways. Regular exposure to noise has been linked to cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, and a CDC study published in The American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2018 found “higher rates of hypertension and high cholesterol in people who were regularly exposed to loud noises at work.”

The Hearing Loss Association of America estimates that more than 48 million Americans have hearing loss. Research has identified a link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease, and some studies have shown that those with hearing issues may be at increased risk of developing cognitive problems and dementia. There is limited scientific evidence to explain why or how hearing loss contributes to the risk of developing of Alzheimer’s, but some researchers hypothesize that it has to do with stresses on the brain. When a person’s hearing starts to deteriorate, they have to work harder to make sense of sound or what people are saying, which requires more mental energy. When this happens, there is less mental energy to put toward other cognitive functions.

Improving awareness of the implications of noise exposure at work and making sure workers are suitably protected will go a long way to protect against health effects that could affect them for the rest of their lives. For these reasons, it is important that employers provide suitable noise measurement instrumentation to measure workers’ noise exposure on the job.
A Focus on Hearing Loss
Loud and Clear
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Employers Need to Take Responsibility
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace by examining workplace conditions and ensuring that employees have and use safe tools and equipment. In 2018, ISO 45001, Occupational health and safety management systems – Requirements, was established as the new voluntary standard for OHS. ISO 45001 is intended to reduce the burden of occupational injuries and diseases by providing a framework to improve employee safety and create safer working conditions. In addition to applying standards like ISO 45001 in the workplace, employers can use monitoring to gain insights into noise levels and identify problem areas.

Conducting workplace monitoring to measure noise exposure provides concrete data and highlights key avenues for change to improve noisy working conditions. An organization’s rate of injury and number of working days lost could significantly improve if people within the organization had the knowledge and understanding of noise measurement. Upskilling your work force could help you to start seeing improvements in workplace noise levels and employee exposures.

Limit Exposure to Loud Noises at Work
OSHA sets the legal limits on noise exposure in the workplace based on a worker’s time-weighted average over an eight-hour day. OSHA’s permissible exposure limit for noise is 90 dBA for all workers for an eight-hour day. Occupational standards specify a maximum allowable daily noise dose expressed in percentages. For example, a person exposed to 90 dBA over an eight-hour work shift will reach 100 percent of their daily noise dose. The noise dose is based on both the sound exposure level and the duration, and OSHA’s standard uses a 5 dBA exchange rate. This means that for each noise level increase of 5 dBA, the amount of time the worker can be exposed to a certain noise level to receive the same dose is cut in half.