Codes & Testing :: U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)

Code: OSHA establishes standards for occupational noise exposure. (Click here for more information on this standard.)

Enforcement: On state level

General Information: Established in 1981, this standard is designed to prevent occupational hearing loss and provides feasible guidelines to protect employees from excessive noise in the workplace. OSHA noise standards consist of a two-stage program:

  • A hearing conservation program must be implemented when employees are exposed to 85 dB or more in an 8-hour day. These programs include annual audiometric testing and require hearing protection, such as earplugs, to be worn during business hours.
  • Engineering or administrative noise controls are required when exposure exceeds 90 dB. Engineering controls include redesigning the space to reduce machinery noise, replacing machinery with quieter equipment, enclosing the noise source or enclosing the noise receiver. Administrative controls include mandating the length of time an employee can be exposed to a particular noise source.

Ideally, a compliance officer will check an establishment for OSHA violations at least every three years. Due to limited resources, this is frequently not the case. Checks are usually based on the number of workman’s compensation claims and complaints. If an establishment is in violation of OSHA and does not implement the necessary changes, ramifications can include warnings, fines and criminal prosecution (at the extreme).

Strength: When adhered to, OSHA standards provide employees with a certain level of protection. The existence of this standard validates the risk of occupational hearing loss and the government's interest in preventing it. Some states offer free OSHA consulting services that determine whether or not a business is in violation and to offer suggestions for improvements if a violation is determined. Complying to OSHA standards lowers an employer’s liability and contributes to a safer, more productive working environment.

Weakness: A business is not required to demonstrate OSHA compliance until an OSHA compliance officer conducts a random or scheduled check. Many businesses are inadvertently in violation of OSHA or simply choose not to comply until they are forced to do so.

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