Noise can cause hearing damage that is permanent and disabling. This hearing loss can occur over time; but immediate, permanent hearing loss can occur with extremely loud noises as well.
Besides permanent hearing loss, loud noise can also cause:
- Ringing or buzzing in your ear (tinnitus).
- Increased sensitivity to sound.
You may not become aware of the hearing loss until several years have gone by. Long-term exposure to noise in the workplace is also associated with hypertension and other chronic conditions. Hearing loss cannot be cured, but it can be prevented.
Noise may be a problem in your workplace if you:
- Have to raise your voice to be heard by someone standing next to you.
- Hear ringing or humming in your ears during or after work.
- Experience temporary hearing loss during or after work
- Experience ear pain with noise.
Noise is measured in decibels, or dB. Measure your employee’s noise exposures to identify what noise protections need to be in place. L&I’s safety and health consultants can help you do this.
|Noise Limit||What's Required|
(averaged over 8-hour workday)
(averaged over an 8-hour workday)
(Measured with the slow setting on the meter. Requirements apply even if there is no other noise exposure.)
Signs posted in work areas warning of exposure
(Measured with the fast setting on the meter. Requirement applies even if there is no other noise exposure.)
Eliminating or reducing harmful noise levels is the best way to protect workers. Some ways to do that include:
- Providing low noise tools and machinery.
- Maintaining your equipment and lubricating parts as recommended.
- Moving employees away from noise or placing a barrier between the noise and employees.
- Using sound-absorbing enclosures, silencers, or mufflers.
- Rotating employees out of loud areas or tasks, or rescheduling work.
Hearing protection, like earplugs or earmuffs, can protect you from noise if worn correctly. Hearing protection must be selected for the specific decibel level and type of noise workers are exposed to.
Employees need to be trained on noise and hearing protection. Training needs to cover the health effects of noise, noise controls in the workplace, hearing protection, and hearing loss prevention program evaluations.
Hearing Tests (Audiograms)
Annual hearing tests help identify hearing loss in your employees. Some reasons why employees may be having hearing loss can include:
- Changes in work processes leading to increased noise levels
- A need for additional noise controls
- Poorly maintained equipment
- Employees not consistently or correctly wearing hearing protection
- Worn out hearing protection.
Periodically review your hearing loss prevention efforts and employee annual hearing tests to ensure the protections you have put in place are working.
Read more about the Hearing Loss Prevention Standard (Chapter 296-817 WAC) in the Requirements & Policies section.
The purpose of the Hearing Loss Prevention Standard (Chapter 296-817 WAC) is to prevent hearing loss by minimizing noise exposures and ensuring employees exposed to noise are protected.
The following is a summary of the regulation to protect workers from hearing loss caused by noise on the job:
Measure employee noise exposures to determine if it is 85 dBA TWA8 (a-weighted decibels eight-hour time-weighted average) or higher. Measurements can be made in two ways:
- Use a personal noise monitor (also known as a noise dosimeter).
- Use a sound level meter for constant, impact, or impulse noise; exposure can be calculated using the equations found in the rule.
At 85 dBA TWA8 develop a full hearing loss prevention program including:
- Noise exposure monitoring
- Hearing protection
- Employee training
- Audiometric testing
- Addressing deficiencies in your hearing loss prevention program
- Documenting your hearing loss prevention activities.
At 90 dBA TWA8 include in your hearing loss prevention program, on top of what is required at 85 dBA TWA8, feasible controls limiting employee exposures to noise.
At 115 dBA (measured with the slow setting on the meter) warning signs must be posted indicating the area is a high-noise area and hearing protectors are required.
At 140 dBA (measured with the fast setting on the meter) hearing protectors are required.
Read the full requirements in the Hearing Loss Prevention Standard linked below. Reach out to L&I’s safety and health consultants if you need help setting up your hearing loss prevention program.
- Hearing Loss Prevention Standard (Chapter 296-817 WAC)
- Nonagricultural Employment of Minors - Prohibited and Hazardous employment – All Minors (Chapter 296-125-030)
- Record Keeping and Reporting Standard (Chapter 296-27 WAC)
These resources can help explain the hazard of noise, explain hearing loss prevention methods, and help you meet hearing loss prevention requirements.
- Preventing Hearing Loss Caused by Chemical (Ototoxicity) and Noise Exposure – Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- Hearing Protection , L&I Training Kit
- Hearing Protection Online Employee Training Course , L&I
- Noise Audits , L&I Training Kit
- Hearing Protection – Information on choosing the right hearing protection and understanding noise reduction ratings (NRRs).
- Eliminating Noise - Strategies for addressing noise issues in the workplace through eliminating the noise, using noise controls like enclosures and barriers, or using administrative controls.
- Noise Computation Examples – examples and tables to help calculate employee eight-hour time weighted average noise exposures.
- High Noise Area – Wear Your Hearing Protection Poster. L&I
- The Hearing Video from Work Safe BC. This video provides an introduction to the ear, the hazards of noise, and hearing protection.