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An OSHA Guide to Hearing Protection Part 1

Construction sites are filled with loud, sudden noises that can cause irreparable damage to an employee’s hearing. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the governing body that dictates the necessary equipment and practices required to keep workers safe on project sites around the country. One important aspect of OSHA’s rules and regulations involve the type of hearing protection worn by construction professionals.

In this two-part guide, the OSHA attorneys at Cotney Construction Law will explore OSHA’s strict regulations regarding hearing protection on the construction site. Are your workers protected? It can be difficult to assess an entire workforce without the help of OSHA lawyers experienced in compliance review.

Project Site Factors for Hearing Protection

It can be difficult to quantify the exact conditions that require OSHA-compliant hearing protection. Generally, employees should consider their proximity to the source of a loud noise and minimize their exposure accordingly. Factors to consider when judging whether or not to wear hearing protection include:

  • The volume of a noise measured in decibels (dB)
  • The length of time in which an employee is exposed to loud noises
  • Whether employees are working in multiple areas with varying noise levels
  • The number of sources generating loud noises on the project site

Permissible Noise Exposure

There is an inverse correlation between the volume of a noise and the amount of time a worker should be exposed to that noise. For example, an employee can be exposed to 90 dB of noise for 8 hours in a single day before hearing protection is required. However, if this noise level was to increase to 115 dB, hearing exposure would be required after 15 minutes of exposure. Therefore, there’s a considerable distinction between situations where hearing protection is required and not required. The permissible noise exposure levels against a specific period of time are documented below:

  • Duration: 8 hours; sound level (dB): 90
  • Duration: 6 hours; sound level (dB): 92
  • Duration: 4 hours; sound level (dB): 95
  • Duration: 3 hours; sound level (dB): 97
  • Duration: 2 hours; sound level (dB): 100
  • Duration: 1.5 hours; sound level (dB):102
  • Duration: 1 hour; sound level (dB): 105
  • Duration: 30 minutes; sound level (dB): 110
  • Duration: 15 minutes; sound level (dB): 115

OSHA designates a noise as continuous if the interval between maximum volume levels is one second or less, otherwise, it is considered an impact or impulse noise. These booming, but short-lived noises shouldn’t exceed 140 dB on a project site. Impact or impulse noises are usually generated from tools like powder-actuated nail guns, a punch press, or drop hammers.

In part two, we will explore the various types of hearing protection apparatus used by construction professionals to maintain OSHA compliance.

If you would like to speak with our OSHA attorneys, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.