Occupational exposure to high noise levels can be found in different areas of the hospital (e.g., laundry, engineering, and heliport). Employee exposure to noisy machinery or equipment may induce hearing loss, hearing impairment, hypertension and other adverse health effects.
Requirements under OSHA's Occupational Noise Exposure Standard, 29 CFR 1910.95
OSHA's Occupational Noise Exposure Standard [29 CFR 1910.95] for general industry (which includes the healthcare sector) requires employers to implement a Hearing Conservation Program for all workers who are exposed to an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) noise level of 85 decibels (dBA) or higher. A Hearing Conservation Program must include, for example, requirements for measuring employee noise exposure levels, making available annual hearing tests and PPE (i.e., hearing protectors) at no cost to workers, and providing training.
Engineering and administrative controls are the first line of defense against excessive noise exposure (i.e., exposure above the standard’s Permissible Noise Exposure Level). Hearing protectors, such as earmuffs and plugs, must be worn when engineering and administrative controls are not feasible to reduce noise levels below the standard’s Permissible Noise Exposure Level. See Table G-16 in 29 CFR 1910.95 for more information on that standard’s Permissible Noise Exposure requirements. In addition, hearing protectors must be worn by a worker exposed to an 8-hour time-weighted average noise level of at least 85 dBA, when the worker's hearing tests indicate significant hearing damage (relative to the baseline hearing tests required by the standard) or the worker has not yet had the baseline hearing tests required by the standard.
Recognized Controls and Work Practices
Some examples of engineering and work practice controls to help decrease occupational noise exposure levels include:
- Reduce the amount of sound energy released by the noise source.
- Divert the flow of sound energy away from the worker.
- Protect the receiver from the sound energy reaching him/her.
- Proper maintenance of equipment, equipment replacements.
- Revised operating procedures, equipment redesign, enclosures.
- Use of acoustical shields and barriers.
- Use of personal protective equipment.
Use hearing protection (e.g., earplugs, ear muffs) to provide protection against noise exposure.
- Noise Exposure Computation, 29 CFR 1910.95 Mandatory Appendix A. Under 29 CFR 1910.95(c)(1), employee noise exposure must be computed in accordance with Appendix A and Table G-16a (which is located in the Appendix), and without regard to any attenuation provided by the use of personal protective equipment.
- Occupational Noise Exposure. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.
- Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety & Health Topics.
- Hearing Conservation. OSHA Publication 3074, (2002).
- Noise Control Guidelines, Appendix A. OSHA Directive CPL 02-02-035, (December 19, 1983).
- Criteria For a Recommended Standard: Occupational Noise Exposure--Revised Criteria. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 98-126, (June 1998). This publication contains NIOSH policy and recommendations regarding hazardous noise and hearing loss prevention strategies.
- Noise Meter. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). An interactive graphic demonstrating noise levels.
- Noise Induced Hearing Loss. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).