How do you know if noise levels are hazardous on your job site? OSHA recommends hearing protection when you are exposed to noise levels of 85 decibels (dBA) over an 8-hour period. You can use a sound level meter to measure the decibels produced by your equipment, or a dosimeter to measure the average noise exposure over your workday. In the absence of these instruments, use the “two-to-three-foot” rule: if, when standing two to three feet (arm’s length) away from a coworker, you must raise your voice to be heard, the noise level is probably greater than 85 dBA.
Noise levels can be controlled by selecting the quietest equipment or tool available for the job; positioning equipment farther away when possible; erecting sound barriers around noisy equipment; or by adding mechanical controls such as mufflers to loud equipment. When noise reduction is not an option, ear protection must be worn.
Whether you choose earmuffs or one of the many varieties of ear plugs available, proper fit and use are key to preventing hearing loss.
- Wear ear protection at all times when exposed to a noise hazard. Obey noise hazard warning signs.
- If earplugs are used, ensure they are a good fit and are kept clean.
- Use disposable earplugs only once.
- Earmuffs must be a good fit, particularly wear the seal fits the head. Do not alter the pressure of the fit by bending the band.
- Use clean hands when handling ear protection. Store ear protection in a clean environment.
Be sure to include noise hazards in your Job Hazard/ Job Safety Analysis and in your daily tailgate talks. For more on hearing protection, see the OSHA pocket guide at https://www.osha.gov/Publications/3498noise-in-construction-pocket-guide.pdf.