Occupational Noise Exposure

Occupational noise exposure is one of the most significant health and safety hazards at work. Excessive noise at work and accidents due to noise disruption and communication difficulties are just a few of the consequences.

Occupational Noise Exposure

Occupational noise exposure is the amount of noise workers are exposed to in their workplaces during work time. The occupational noise exposure is calculated on the basis of decibel levels and the duration of exposure. Prolonged exposure to high levels of occupational noise can lead to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). NIHL is a gradual, irreversible condition that results from damage to the delicate hair cells in the inner ear, which are responsible for transmitting sound signals to the brain. Once these hair cells are damaged or destroyed, they do not regenerate, leading to permanent hearing loss.

Occupational Noise Exposure Sources

Occupational Noise Exposure Sources include machinery, tools, vehicles, and even certain processes or activities carried out in the work environment. The issue of noise at work also affects education, entertainment, agriculture, and the service sectors. There are strict noise regulations in line with the EU’s Noise Directive that thoroughly describe how to handle workplace noise. The framework directive establishes the overall guidelines for prevention.

What are Occupational Noise Standards?

Occupational noise exposure standards include ISO, IEC, OSHA, NIOSH, and ACGIH, among others. These standards may be adapted to suit the specific requirements of different countries and regions. However, the principles of measurement are generally similar in all locations, as humans react similarly to exposure to noise regardless of geographic location. It’s essential to follow these regulatory standards and guidelines when using dosimeters to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the measurements and to protect the health and safety of workers. Compliance with these standards is critical to maintaining a safe and healthy work environment and avoiding potential legal issues. The most commonly applied measurement standards for noise dosimeters are:

  • OSHA 29 CFR 1910.95 Occupational Noise Exposure Standard: This standard from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States establishes permissible exposure limits (PELs) for noise exposure in the workplace and requires employers to implement hearing conservation programs to protect workers.
  • ANSI S1.25: This standard from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) provides guidelines for the measurement of noise exposure in the workplace, including the use of dosimeters.
  • ACGIH TLV for Noise: This threshold limit value (TLV) from the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) provides recommendations for occupational exposure to noise, including a maximum permissible exposure level.
  • ISO 1999: This standard provides guidelines for the assessment of noise exposure and the prediction of noise-induced hearing loss.
  • ISO 9612: This standard outlines the general requirements for the measurement and evaluation of human exposure to occupational noise, including the use of dosimeters.

Occupational Noise Exposure Standards in United States

In the United States, occupational noise exposure regulations are established by OSHA 29 CFR 1910.95 1983. This standard is based on the earlier Walsh-Healey Act of 1969. Above 85 dBA, employers are required to develop and implement a hearing conservation program that includes all types of noises between 80 and 130 dB, including impulsive noise. Instruments must be calibrated appropriately and regularly, and workers must be notified of the risks and allowed to observe. An audiometric program must be undertaken, and records of all results must be retained for 2 years for measurements and for the duration of employment for audiometric records. Above 90 dBA, noise reduction engineering must be undertaken, and the noise output from specific machines or processes must be reduced. Barriers, enclosures, and absorption techniques must be used to protect workers while trying to reduce high noise levels.

Occupational Noise Exposure regulations in the UK

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 are a set of regulations in the United Kingdom that require employers to prevent or reduce risks to their employee’s health and safety from exposure to noise at work. The regulations require employers to carry out risk assessments to determine the level of noise exposure in the workplace, take appropriate action to control the exposure and provide training and information to their employees. The regulations set out specific exposure limits and action values, which determine the level of risk and the necessary actions to be taken. The regulations also require employers to take a ‘buy quiet’ approach, where possible, and maintain machinery and noise-control equipment. Failure to comply with the regulations can result in enforcement action, including fines and prosecution.

Occupational Noise Directive in European Union

In Europe, the Occupational Noise Directive 2003/10/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 6 February 2003 sets limits on how much noise people can be exposed to. This is done to protect workers from noise-related hearing loss. The directive sets two exposure limit values: a lower exposure action value of 80 dBA and an upper exposure action value of 85 dBA. When the lower or upper exposure action values are reached, employers must take steps to lower the noise level and protect workers. The directive also sets a peak sound pressure limit of 135 dB, which must not be exceeded. The EU Noise Directive applies to all industries and workplaces in the European Union. Its goal is to make sure that all member states have the same rules about noise exposure. Member states have to put the directive into their own laws, which may have more measures and requirements than the directive’s minimum requirements. 

What are occupational noise exposure limits?

Occupational Noise Exposure Limits are associated action values based on decibel levels outlined by standards such as the European Union’s Directive on Noise. The Noise Directive outlines three primary exposure levels and corresponding actions:

  1. Lower exposure action value (80 dBA): When daily or weekly noise exposure reaches this level, employers must inform and train workers about the risks of noise exposure and provide preventive audiometric testing. If noise risks can’t be avoided by other means, suitable individual hearing protectors should be made available.

  2. Upper exposure action value (85 dBA): At this level, employers must take specific actions to reduce noise exposure, such as implementing noise-reducing programs and marking noisy areas with signs. Employees also have the right to consult with medical professionals regarding their hearing health. Moreover, suitable individual hearing protectors should not only be available but also used by workers.

  3. Exposure limit value (87 dBA): This is the absolute maximum daily or weekly noise exposure level, taking into account the noise reduction provided by hearing protectors. Employers must ensure that no worker is exposed to noise exceeding this level and take immediate corrective action if this limit is breached.

How to prevent occupational noise exposure?

To prevent occupational noise exposure, several precautions can be taken. Personal hearing protection, such as earplugs and earmuffs, are not the only solutions to occupational noise exposure. In fact, according to the hierarchy of controls, personal protective equipment (PPE) is often considered a last resort after other means have been exhausted. The preferred approach is to eliminate the hazard or implement engineering or administrative controls, such as:

  1. Elimination of noise exposure risk: This is the most effective control. An example would be choosing a quiet process or quiet machinery to eliminate the noise hazard entirely.

  2. Substitution: This involves replacing something that produces noise with something less noisy. For example, using electric motors instead of diesel ones.

  3. Engineering Controls: These are changes made to machinery or processes to reduce the noise they produce (e.g. enclosures around machinery, sound barriers, or panels)

  4. Administrative Controls: These involve changing the way people work (e.g. rotating workers out of noisy areas, training and education programs to raise awareness about the risks of noise exposure).

  5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): This is the least preferred method and is often used in conjunction with other controls or when other controls are not feasible. Examples include earplugs, earmuffs, and canal caps.

occupational noise exposure

What is occupational noise exposure testing?

Occupational noise exposure testing is a noise at-work measurement whose goal is to verify action levels set at 80, 85, and 87 decibels. Employers use such testing to determine the levels of noise to which their employees are exposed, ensuring that these levels remain within safe limits set by regulatory agencies or standards organizations. Testing often adheres to international standards such as ISO 1999:1990 (“Acoustics – Determination of occupational noise exposure and estimation of noise-induced hearing impairment”). This standard provides guidelines on how to measure noise exposure and estimate the risk of hearing impairment due to that exposure. 

Regular testing and monitoring of noise levels in workplaces are crucial, especially in industries or settings where high noise levels are common. This ensures that employers are taking adequate steps to mitigate the risks and that employees are protected from potential hearing damage.


What is Occupational Noise Measurement Equipment?

Occupational noise measurement equipment includes:

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