The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires all employees who are exposed to noise levels with a time-weighted average of 85-decibels or more to be included in a hearing conservation program. These employees must receive audiograms on an annual basis to determine if they experience a certain level of hearing loss known as a “Standard Threshold Shift”. In addition, the facility must also evaluate feasible administrative or engineering controls to reduce employee noise exposure for all employees who are exposed to noise levels at or above OSHA’s permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 90-decibels. If no additional controls are employed, then those employees exposed to noise levels above the OSHA PEL must wear hearing protectors. It is important to remember that, according to OSHA’s Hierarchy of Controls, the use of PPE is the last step to reducing an employee’s exposure to high levels of noise, after engineering and administrative controls.
In order to evaluate employee noise exposure, facilities are required to conduct noise monitoring studies. These studies are conducted using sound meters or dosimeters that measure an employee’s average sound exposure. However, OSHA does not specify in 29 CFR 1910.95 how often these monitoring studies must be conducted. Instead, the regulation states that “monitoring shall be repeated whenever a change in production, process, equipment or controls increases noise exposures to the extent that additional employees may be exposed at or above the action level or the attenuation provided by hearing protectors being used by employees may be rendered inadequate.” It is likely that your facility has conducted a noise study to identify employees to include in a hearing conservation program, or to determine that noise levels are below the 85-decibel action level.
How long ago were these studies performed, and are these results still valid? New machinery, re-location of equipment, facility layout changes, or building modifications can all affect employee noise exposure. Even if no machines have been added or modified, no changes have been made to production processes, normal wear and tear of machinery can gradually impact employee noise exposure. On the other hand, if a facility has removed, relocated, or repaired equipment, a noise study could verify that employees who were previously exposed to noise levels above the OSHA action level are no longer exposed to hazardous noise levels, allowing the facility to cease implementation of a hearing conservation program for those employees.
It is crucial to employee health to maintain accurate noise monitoring results over time to ensure that employees are not exposed to hazardous noise levels. This is why OSHA requires noise monitoring to be repeated if equipment is added, removed, relocated, or modified. Because of this, you should consider conducting follow-up noise monitoring throughout your facility to ensure that your noise monitoring results are kept current.
If you have any questions regarding conducting noise monitoring surveys throughout your facility, please contact CTI at (770) 263-6330. CTI is experienced with conducting facility noise and air quality monitoring, and can also help with the implementation of engineering or administrative controls to reduce employee exposure to noise or airborne contaminants.