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OSHA noise and hearing regulations

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was a paramount movement for workers in the U.S. as it established clear guidelines, standard protections and safety regulations for employers to follow to keep employees safe in the workplace. One major part of the OSHA safety regulations pertains to protections against hearing loss from heavy machinery and other workplace noise hazards. 

Occupational noise exposure

OSHA regulates hearing limits for professions. Here are the basics of the Appendix B, the Occupational Noise Exposure section of the OSH Act of 1970:

Basic Regulations

There are regulations for employers to follow for continuous noise above the safe level of 85 decibels. As the number of decibels of exposure increase, the maximum number of hours of exposure per day decreases. Here are the regulations:

  • When an employee is exposed to 8 hours or more hours of noise exposure at or above 85 decibels, the employer must institute a hearing conservation program for each employee and must monitor all continuous, intermittent and impulse noises between 80 and 130 decibels using audiometric testing.
  • Employees must be informed of the noise-induced hearing loss and other health risks that can occur due to noise exposure.
  • Within six months of employment in an environment where they are exposed to loud noises, employees must be given a baseline audiogram. Thereafter, they should be provided with a yearly audiogram by a certified audiologist, free-of-charge, that should be compared to the baseline audiogram each year to determine if noise exposure has caused hearing loss.
  • For employees exposed to hearing hazards, employers are required to provide them with various hearing protection options.
  • Employers must hold a training program each year about hearing protection to employees who will be exposed to more than 8 hours of 85-decibel noise, or higher.
  • Records must be kept of employees' varying noise exposure levels.

Workers' rights

Decibels Hours of exposure
90 8
92 6
95 3
100 2
102 1.5
105 1
110 15 minutes

Workers have the right to a safe workplace and freedom from being affected by noises loud enough to induce hearing loss. In regards to their hearing, the OSH Act provides workers with the rights to:

  • Request that OSHA inspects their workplace if they feel that employers' are not complying to the hearing safety requirements laid out in the OSH Act.
  • Receive training, in a language they understand, about their rights, the hazards of noise in their work environment and how they can protect themselves from excessive noise.
  • Use their rights without fear of retaliation or discrimination from employers.
  • Have copies of their audiograms and other test results so that they may assess the hazards themselves.
  • Get copies of their health records and review records kept by their employer on illnesses and work-related injuries.

These rights under the OSH Act cover most employees in all 50 states and Washington D.C., including state and local government workers, federal government workers and private sector workers. They do not apply to those who are self-employed, fall under federal regulations for workplace hazards by another government agency or family members of farm owners who do not hire outside employees.

For more information about these regulations and workers' rights, go to the OSHA website.

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