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Author: Robert D. Bruce
When purchasing equipment, industry leaders often fail to take into account the risk to hearing.
Millions of workers in the United States are exposed to sound levels that are likely to cause permanent hearing loss, even though many of them wear hearing-protection devices. Many people do not realize that these devices and hearing-protection programs are not the preferred way of protecting hearing. The preferred way, often called “engineering controls,” is to reduce the noise of machinery or introduce a noise control element between machinery and workers.
Engineering controls are preferred for many reasons, including permanence, effectiveness with or without worker/supervisor compliance, less absenteeism, easier communication, lower worker compensation costs, and reduced legal costs. In fact, engineering controls are the protection method of choice according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
This paper reviews the use of engineering controls for existing noise sources in American workplaces. Many of these controls could be integrated into machinery by original equipment manufacturers, but, for non-engineering reasons, they have been eliminated from the machinery design.
Since the late 1940s, scientists and engineers have been working on ways to control noise from machinery. In the 1970s, the emphasis was on engineering controls in the workplace, but since then the focus has shifted because OSHA has not enforced the requirement for engineering controls and because industry leaders have failed to take into account the risk to hearing when purchasing equipment.
Occupational Noise-Exposure Regulation
The OSHA Regulation (often called Standard) 29 CFR Occupational Noise Exposure-1910.95 is excerpted below:
When employees are subjected to sound exceeding those listed in Table G-16, feasible administrative or engineering controls shall be utilized. If such controls fail to reduce sound levels within the levels of Table G-16, personal protective equipment shall be provided and used to reduce sound levels to within the levels of the table.
If the variations in noise level involve maxima at intervals of 1 second or less, it is to be considered continuous.
Permissible Noise Exposures (1)