What Decibel Level Requires Hearing Protection At Work?

Last update on Dec, 01, 2023

Understanding Workplace Noise: Determining the Threshold for Hearing Protection

It may come as a surprise, but more than 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise annually, leading to Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). This condition can occur due to brief exposure to extremely intense sound levels or repeated exposure to loud sounds over time.

Occupational hearing loss is the preferred term used when someone experiences hearing loss at work, and it poses a real threat to your members' long-term health.

Who's At Risk?

Certain occupations, such as mining, construction, airline ground maintenance, military, and manufacturing, put individuals at a higher risk for occupational hearing loss.

However, any hearing loss resulting from a workplace environment falls under this category.

In this article, we'll discuss how to identify noise hazards at work and what measures organizations can take to prevent occupational hearing loss.

At What Decibel Is Hearing Protection Required?

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to establish a hearing conservation program if their employees are subjected to an average noise level of 85 decibels (dB) during an 8-hour work shift.

Let's put this noise level into perspective:

  • A whisper measures at around 30 dB
  • A live music event typically ranges between 100 and 115 dB

Both time and intensity are critical when considering occupational noise exposure. Extremely loud sounds may take only moments to damage hearing. So, although 85 dB may not initially seem like a noise hazard, over the course of an 8-hour work day, it will cause permanent damage.

It's important to consider the length of time your members are exposed to high noise levels. Simply put, the longer the time, the greater the risk to their hearing health.

Types of Noise Hazards in the Workplace

There are numerous examples of noise hazards that can occur in the workplace.

Some common examples include:

  • Power tools
  • Heavy machinery
  • Drills
  • Grinders
  • Saws
  • Jackhammers
  • Plane engines

Even exposure to loud music at work for long periods, like a busy restaurant or event venture, can contribute to hearing loss.

Hearing Conservation Programs: What You Need to Know

A hearing conservation program is a systematic approach allowing organizations to identify potential noise hazards, monitor noise levels, implement measures to control noise exposure, provide hearing protection devices, and conduct regular hearing screenings to monitor workers' hearing health.

The system utilizes hierarchy of controls established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to prioritize most effective measures for reducing workplace noise hazzards: 


Elimination is the complete removal of the hazard from the workplace and the most effective means of protection. Removing the threat is the easiest to achieve in the earliest phases of project development.


When eliminating a threat is not fully possible, the preferred methodology is substituting the hazard for a less dangerous alternative. 

Hearing Protection Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment, often called PPE, is provided for individual workers to limit their exposure to a hazard. In relation to occupational hearing loss, PPE is a hearing protection like earplugs or earmuffs.

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls involve isolating people from the hazard as much as possible through physical changes to the work environment.

Administrative controls

Similar to engineering controls, administrative controls seek to isolate workers from the hazard. Administrative controls rely on changes to the way people work and are trained.

Workplace Noise: Why Members Are at Risk

Risk of Injury and Accidents

Hearing loss impairs a person's hearing and communication ability, often resulting in workplace injuries. Take the example of an employee who cannot hear warning signals or instructions due to hearing loss.

This individual's inability to perceive information and respond appropriately can put him and his colleagues in danger, potentially leading to accidents and injuries.

Further, if a person's inner ear becomes damaged due to hearing loss, it can lead to balance problems. The brain relies on information from the inner ear to interpret signals from the eyes and other sensory systems to maintain balance. So, when the inner ear is damaged, the brain may struggle to interpret these signals correctly, leading to an increased risk of falls. 

Risk of Other Health Conditions

The loss of hearing can contribute to a higher likelihood of experiencing health complications, such as diabetes, dementia, and depression.

Risk of Higher Insurance Claims

Injuries resulting from occupational hearing loss can have a significant impact on rising insurance claims. The costs associated with treating hearing loss and its related injuries can be substantial, and they are typically passed onto insurance plans.

This often results in an increase in insurance claims, leading to higher insurance premiums and unhappy members.

Get Your Hearing Checked Regularly

Remember that occupational hearing loss can occur over time without members realizing it. Excessive noise or exposure to ototoxic (hearing damaging) chemicals can damage hearing slowly, making it difficult to detect.

Therefore, it's recommended that workers undergo regular hearing checks annually. Doing so will establish a baseline for their hearing and help identify any hearing loss in the early stages.

Amplifon Hearing Health Care Makes Hearing Health Care Easier

At Amplifon, we offer plans designed to support your members' hearing health journey. We have extensive experience in designing and implementing hearing benefits that provide members with wider access to hearing care services and treatment options.

Our involvement in multiple industry groups, including workers' compensation and union/labor groups, allows us to keep up with emerging health care trends, ensuring your members understand their coverage options so they continue to utilize coverage while you keep claim costs down.

As your hearing healthcare partner, we'll provide you with a comprehensive range of administrative and management services so you don't have to do the heavy lifting.

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