OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, reports that preventable noise-related hearing loss is a work hazard affecting millions of people each year. High noise levels cause both temporary and permanent hearing loss, depending on the amount and length of exposure. Other effects of exposure to noise include stress, reduced productivity, and interference with communication and concentration, which are contributing factors in accidents and injuries. Because of this, OSHA has developed a regulation to address occupational noise exposure, including rules on earphones.
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OSHA’s Occupational Noise Exposure Regulation
OSHA’s occupational noise exposure regulation standard number 1910.95 requires employers to take specific actions to ensure worker protection when there are continuous high noise levels. The regulation states that continuous high noise levels must be measured with standard sound level meters and employers must try to implement feasible controls. If those fail to reduce exposure to required levels, personal protective equipment that reduces sound levels must be provided, as well as an effective and ongoing hearing conservation program. The regulation also requires employers to notify employees of the hearing conservation program, and provide hearing testing administered by certified hearing protection professionals at no cost to employees.
Why Earphones are Required
Earphones are required to protect workers from temporary and permanent hearing loss when exposed to continuous high noise levels. Continuous high noise levels in some work environments can’t be altered by modifying equipment or locating employees away from noise-generating sources. In those situations, OSHA requires employers to provide personal protective equipment to protect worker hearing, including earphones. OSHA requires employer to provide earphones for employees whenever the noise can’t be reduced with engineering or administrative controls such as enclosing the noise-making equipment or conditions. When noise exposure is 85 decibels or higher for eight hours — or 90 decibels in the construction industry — employers must implement an effective hearing conservation program that includes proper hearing protection such as earphones.
Earphones and Hearing Conservation Programs
Earphones are just one part of an effective hearing conservation program required by OSHA when noise levels can’t be reduced below OSHA’s required levels. OSHA requires hearing conservation programs to perform noise sampling to identify who is at risk of hearing loss, yearly hearing testing, and hearing protection follow-up for workers with hearing loss. Other OSHA requirements for an effective hearing conservation program include selecting the right earphones to reduce exposure, training workers how to properly use earphones and other hearing protection equipment, and keeping good records of noise levels and hearing conservation programs.