By law, OSHA requires employers to implement a hearing conservation program when the average noise exposure over eight working hours reaches or exceeds 85 decibels, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its hearing loss article compares to the sound of city traffic (from inside the vehicle) or a gas-powered leaf blower. To prevent noise-induced hearing loss, OSHA provides employers with hearing conservation guidelines.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) occupational hearing loss statistics, a 2018 study revealed that about 25% of all workers have been exposed to hazardous noise, with 14% (22 million) exposed in the previous year. Of those exposed, approximately 12% of all workers have hearing difficulty. Another study determined that 34% of noise-exposed workers report not wearing hearing protection.
“Earning a living should not come at the expense of hearing loss,” said OSHA Acting Regional Administrator William Donovan in Chicago. In June 2021, the OSHA regional office in Chicago (Region 5) took a proactive stance to reduce the number of workers experiencing hearing loss due to their work environment. It established a Regional Emphasis Program through its June 1st Directive which aims to raise awareness among Midwest manufacturing employers and to encourage employers to take steps to identify, reduce, and eliminate hazards associated with exposure to high levels of noise.
The Chicago OSHA Regional Office intends to enhance enforcement efforts however, enforcement activities will begin no earlier than three months after outreach is initiated and will include, but not be limited to, the inspection and review of operations and working conditions, injury and illness records, and safety and health programs to identify and obtain corrections of workplace hazards at all applicable inspection sites.
Although this OSHA Directive is affecting only the employers within its region (Region 5), it is probable that other OSHA regional offices may follow suit. Before this happens, take this time to revisit the noise levels permitted for your manufacturing facility and the personal protective equipment which may be necessary to mitigate the effect of noise levels which exceed OSHA’s allowable limits.