An estimated $242 million is spent annually on workers’ compensation claims for hearing loss disability. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), reports that about 22 million people are exposed to hazardous and potentially hazardous noise levels at work.

Furthermore, a study conducted at the University of Michigan’s Occupational Health Nursing Program found that chronic noise in the workplace caused an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, excessive noise can be stressful and have a negative effect on the emotional well-being of employees and cause them to be moodier, irritable, distracted or even depressed. Keeping workplace noise to a minimum whenever possible is shown to increase the overall health and productivity of your work force.

Workplace noise is inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is controlling and maintaining a working environment for employees to safely and comfortably perform their job functions. In order to find the right solution for your workplace, it’s important to understand how sound is measured and at what levels it becomes dangerous.

Determining Safe and Harmful Sound Levels

Decibels are a unit of sound pressure levels that measure noise. Decibels use A-weighted sound levels, which match the perception of sound levels by the human ear. Though the decibel scale is small, minor changes in the number of decibels results in a significant increase in the amount of noise emitted. Here’s a break out of the decibel scale as it relates to every day sounds:

  • 0 dBA – the softest sound the human ear can hear
  • 10 dBA – normal breathing from your own mouth
  • 20 dBA – background noise in an enclosed room
  • 30 dBA – standing outside of a rural farm at night
  • 40 dBA – a whisper from someone that’s 5 feet away
  • 50 dBA – the sound of your kitchen refrigerator
  • 60 dBA – a large business office
  • 70 dBA – gas lawnmower in the yard from 100 feet away
  • 80 dBA – a vacuum cleaner from 10 feet away
  • 90 dBA – a train passing by in a subway
  • 100 dBA – standing next to machinery in a factory
  • 110 dBA – an automobile horn from just outside
  • 120 dBA – the sirens on police vehicles, ambulances and firetrucks
  • 130 dBA – a jet taking off from 200 feet away
  • 140 dBA – an aircraft carrier deck – the breaking point of pain in humans

Imagine hearing noise at 100 dBA (common factory machinery) for an 8-hour work day straight. Chances are you’d be leaving work with either a ring in your ears or temporary hearing loss. The health effects that are caused from being exposed to extensive noise for long periods of time can change the lives of your employees.

Noise Level Standards for Industry

OSHA’s legal limits on noise exposure in the workplace are determined by an employee’s time-weighted average over a typical 8-hour day. The permissible exposure limit (PEL) of noise determined by OSHA is 90 dBA throughout an 8-hour period. This same standard uses a 5-dBA exchange rate, meaning that an increase to the noise level of 5 dBA results in the amount of exposure time being cut in half.

NIOSH highly recommends a more conservative noise exposure limit of 85 dBA over an 8-hour time weighted average with a 3-dB doubling rate.

Last year, a group of industrial hygiene professionals and organizations formed The 85-3 Coalition, which advocates the more conservative standard and recognizes employers and organizations that adopt it.

Effective and Economical Solutions

Our experienced O’Neill Sales Engineers will visit your facility to conduct a noise assessment to identify the source of your noise control problem while simultaneously observing and considering your company’s unique workspace conditions, processes, procedures and traffic flow.

We will then design the most effective and economical solution to protect your employee’s health, comfort and productivity by delivering unparalleled customer service, premium products, materials, and customized engineered systems regardless of the size, condition, or complexity.

Visit our on-site noise control assessment page for additional information and to schedule your consultation. Contact us with any questions you may have about controlling noise in the workplace.