April 2009 Safety Tip



Noise is unwanted sound. It can have different effects on all of us.

Psychological effects mean that noise can startle us, annoy us, and disrupt our concentration. Noise can interfere with our communications when we are talking with others. As a consequence, it interferes with our job performances and our safety.

Physiological effects mean that we can lose our hearing. Noise can cause pain and even nausea when the exposure is severe.

Ear protectors, in effect, reduce the noise levels at the inner ear. Ear protection is particularly important when noise exposures cannot be controlled adequately by changing the environment around us.

Ear protectors may be either earplugs or earmuffs and must have the adequate Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR, to reduce the amount of noise we are exposed to in the workplace. We also must have a good "seal" when wearing our hearing protection. Without the proper fit, hearing protection may not be as beneficial as expected and still result in damage to our hearing.

Three factors may be used to determine the level of noise around us:

  1. If it is necessary to speak in a very loud voice or shout to be understood, it is likely that the exposure limit for noise is being exceeded.
  2. If you have heard noises and ringing noises in your ears at the end of the workday, you are being exposed to too much noise.
  3. If speech or music sounds muffled to you after leaving work, but sounds fairly clear in the morning when you return to work, there is little doubt about your being exposed to noise levels that can eventually cause a partial loss of hearing that can be permanent.

If any of these conditions exist, contact your supervisor and request a safety professional monitor the sound levels by using a sound level meter, the safety professional will measure the noise level at various work areas. They can then determine whether the exposure is great enough to require implementing a Hearing Conservation Program at your work location. NIOSH has an on-line pamphlet that can provide you with further information.

A Hearing Conservation Program is mandatory per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, when sound levels have exceeded the permissible exposure limits (PELs) determined and must consist of a written documented program describing the processes of hearing conservation at the location, sound monitoring, baseline and annual audiometric (hearing) tests for employees, and proper hearing protection and training of the program, along with annual updates and reviews of the program.

Remember, when in doubt or if you have to shout- wear properly fitted hearing protection.

For additional information regarding OHSA's Noise and Hearing Conservation Program, go to their web page at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/index.html.

Maricopa County employees can contact the Safety Office at 602-506-8601 for this information. Other readers with questions concerning worker training should contact their OSHA regional (Region 9 for Arizona) or area office (may be a State office (ADOSH in Arizona)) for more information.

Return to List of Past Safety Tips  Disclaimer: Please refer to statement at top of Past Safety Tips list.