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Noise: The Not-So-Silent Workplace Hazard

July 12, 2018

Excessive workplace noise can cause hearing damage that is disabling and often permanent. In manufacturing, sound from metal stamping machines, saws, drills, computer numeric control (CNC) machines, welding stations, and similar tools is common and has the potential to negatively impact your employees.

While the negative health impacts of noise is usually caused by prolonged exposure, it can also be caused by sudden, extremely loud noises. For instance, experiencing brief, impulsive noises from a nail gun can have permanent and lasting effects on the hearing of your employees.

Employers must take reasonable measures to protect workers from exposure to hazardous sound levels, and no worker’s eight-hour, time-weighted average exposure should exceed 85 decibels.

To protect workers from potentially dangerous noise, you should first consider removing the source of the noise altogether. For example, you could relocate a noisy machine where it can't be heard by workers. If that isn't possible, look into other risk controls, including the following:

  • Implement engineering controls to reduce noise produced by a machine or process.
  • Use screens, barriers, enclosures and absorbent materials to reduce noise before it reaches your workers.
  • Design and set up your workplace to create quiet workstations.
  • Limit the time people spend in noisy areas.
  • Ensure employees wear personal protective equipment.

While hearing protection shouldn’t be used as an alternative to controlling noise, it can be useful in the following situations:

  1. When extra protection is needed above what has been achieved using noise control strategies
  2. When short-term protection is needed while other methods of controlling noise are being developed

For additional protection, employers should post clearly visible warning signs in areas where sound levels exceed 85 decibels.