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OSHA Hearing Conservation: How Loud Is Too Loud?

We mentioned back in August that OSHA’s Region 5 would begin a Regional Emphasis Program (REP) on Exposure to Noise Hazards in the Workplace. This brings up a question that our safety team hears often – how loud is too loud?

The most common answer you’ll hear is between 85 and 90 decibels (dB). That’s roughly the same level of noise you’d be exposed to while operating a lawn mower. Although this is OSHA’s action limit and PEL (permissible exposure limit), there’s still more to think about. If you need to raise your voice to speak to someone three feet away, or employees voice concerns about trouble hearing or ringing in the ears – noise levels might be over 85 dB. The occupational noise exposure standard requires that all employees exposed to noise levels 85+ dB on an 8-hour shift (TWA, or time weighted average) must be included in a hearing conservation program.

The CDC estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at work each year. Whether you work at a sports venue, on a tarmac, or operate a jackhammer—hearing loss is preventable. Hearing conservation programs strive to prevent initial occupational hearing loss, preserve and protect remaining hearing, and equip workers with the knowledge and hearing protection devices necessary to safeguard themselves. A good first step is having a noise survey completed, which will reveal at-risk employees in your facility. If you’re curious how noisy your workplace is prior to scheduling, you can download a decibel meter app on your phone.  The accuracy isn’t guaranteed with these apps, but it will give you a close enough estimate to determine if you should schedule more official testing.

This is a good time to remind our readers that OSHA is very well-funded and active right now. If an inspector walked into your workplace today, are you prepared to answer questions about your hearing conservation program? Helpful hint: not knowing you needed one is not a sufficient excuse in their book.

The safety team at Spooner & SuretyHR can assist you with your program writing, as well as provide sound level monitoring in your facility. Please reach out to Derek Hill at or Jeremy Smith at with any questions, or for more details on our safety services.

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