Noise isn’t a new hazard in the workplace, but it sometimes doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Repeated, unprotected exposure of your employees to loud noise can lead to permanent hearing loss. When information (such as noise monitoring) indicates that any employee’s exposure might equal or exceed an eight-hour average of 85 decibels (dB), OSHA requires you to implement a “hearing conservation program.”
An effective program should concentrate on five key areas:
- A noise-monitoring program. Monitor noise in work areas to identify employees subjected to noise at or above 85. Make sure to have the instruments used for this checked and calibrated carefully before each survey. Keep records of noise monitoring for two years.
- Engineering and administrative controls. If monitoring identifies work areas with exposure levels of 100 dB, determine the engineering or environmental changes needed to reduce noise levels. Consult with your safety committee to set up appropriate administrative controls, such as rotating employees in and out of high-noise areas.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE). Provide employees exposed to noise levels of 85dB or more with appropriate hearing protectors, free of charge. Use a PPE hazard assessment to select the type of PPE that provides the best protection.
- Audiometric testing. All employees exposed to noise levels of 85 dB or greater must have a baseline audiogram within six months of the first exposure, and every year thereafter. If an audiogram shows hearing loss has occurred compared with the baseline, inform the employee, reevaluate hearing protection, retrain the employee if necessary, and refer them for clinical audiological evaluation. Record any threshold shift (hearing loss) of 10 dB or more that results in an overall hearing level of 25 dB on the OSHA Form 300 under “Hearing Loss.”
- Employee training. Supervisors must conduct annual training sessions for affected employees on the elements of your hearing conservation program. These sessions should include the effects of noise on hearing; the purpose of hearing protectors and how to use and maintain them, and the reasons for audiometric testing and an explanation of test procedures. Be sure to document this training.