The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations require employers to address the possibility of ear-damaging noise in the workplace.
About 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise each year and $242 million is spent on hearing loss workers’ comp claims. In 2017, employers had to pay $1.5 million in OSHA penalties for not adequately protecting workers from noise.
Employers are required to have Hearing Conservation Programs if workers are exposed to a time-weighted average noise level of 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA) or higher in an eight-hour shift.
An average factory produces at least 80 dBA, a car wash at 20 feet is 89; propeller plane flyover at 1,000 feet is 88, diesel truck 40 mph at 50 feet is 84, a diesel train at 45 mph at 100 feet is 83, a milling machine is 85 and even a food blender registers 88.
Unless changes are made to tools, equipment adequacy and schedules to reduce exposure below the 85-dBA level, employers must measure noise levels, provide free annual hearing exams and free hearing protection, conduct training and perform evaluations of hearing protection equipment.
OSHA’s maximum permissible (as opposed to day-long average) exposure limit is 90 dBA for all workers for an eight hour day.
The standard also employs a 5-dBA exchange rate. This means that when the noise level is increased by 5 dBA, the amount of time a person can be exposed to the noise level is cut in half.
If a claim is filed, obtain a professional noise reading as soon as possible by an occupational health and safety specialist or specialist technician.
If noise readings are under the industry standard 85 dBA, “it is hard to imagine that any judge would ignore these scientific readings to establish a hearing loss claim based on claimant’s vague descriptions of ‘loud’ noises,” says attorney Alexis Hatten of the Goldberg Segalla law firm. “You can, and should, deny such a claim confidently.”