Each year, 22 million workers are exposed to dangerous noise levels at work. High noise levels damage the inner ear nerves, and can cause noise-induced hearing loss, both as a result of damage over time, and from specific loud exposures. The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) recommends a safe noise exposure limit of 85 decibels over eight hours, about equivalent to the noise produced by a blender. For comparison’s sake, 40 decibels is a whisper; 60 decibels is an ordinary conversation; 100 decibels, earphones at maximum volume; 110 decibels, a nightclub; and 140 decibels, gunfire. In the manufacturing industry, hearing loss is the most common workplace injury.
There are multiple ways to control noise, depending on the industry. The preferred method is elimination or substitution. Either get rid of the sources of noise, or replace noisy equipment with quieter equipment. A second, less favored option is administrative or engineering controls. Workplace policies and procedures, technical fixes, and task rotation can all reduce noise to acceptable levels. The final, and least effective option, is to provide personal protective equipment to workers. Federal regulations require that this equipment be provided at no cost to the worker.