Noise exposure limits according to OSHA
These noise exposure limits are called “permissible exposure limits” (PELs) by OSHA. There is also an “action level” set forth by OSHA where an employer has to start providing the necessary protections.
OSHA’s noise exposure limit
OSHA regulations require employers to provide hearing protection when employees are exposed to levels of 85 dBA or more over an 8-hour period. Levels above 85 dBA are considered the “action level” where employers ensure protective measures are taken. This includes all employees, regardless of their age or physical condition.
It is recommended that workers are not exposed to noise in excess of 85 dB over an eight-hour period because this level is below that may cause permanent hearing damage.
The following table shows the OSHA PELs and NIOSH RELs (recommended exposure limit) for employees exposed to noise (in decibels):
The rule OSHA abides by when determining these numbers is that when there is a 5 dBA increase, the time of exposure should be reduced by half.
Noise exposure controls
When noise levels exceed this limit, employers must implement controls to reduce worker exposure. These controls may include hearing protection and engineering measures such as enclosing noisy processes or redesigning equipment to ensure lower decibels. Employers are required to keep records of their noise control efforts and the measurements they take to determine whether the controls are effective.
If the employer cannot reduce noise levels below the action level through engineering or administrative controls, he or she must institute hearing conservation programs or use hearing protection devices (HPDs) to limit the access of sound which reaches the ear of the employee.
To stay on the safe side, you can rely on the NIOSH Sound Level Meter App which was developed by hearing loss experts to track and measure the noise levels in an environment. For more information, make sure to look at OSHA’s regulations on noise exposure limits.