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Loss Control Insights for Contractors

Turn Down the Volume at Your Jobsite

Chart of noise level by decibles from CDC mobile view

Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the United States, affecting a variety of industries and job categories. Contractors and their employees are especially vulnerable due to the nature of their work and the equipment they use daily. 

In fact, 73% of the time construction workers are exposed over the NIOSH recommended exposure limit, according to data from The Center for Construction Research and Training. Want to help protect your employees’ hearing? Try these ideas for turning down the volume at the jobsite.

Understand How Loud is Too Loud

Noise intensity (loudness) and duration (time) of exposure are the critical factors in evaluating the potential for employee hearing loss. Noises above 85 dB (decibels) are considered hazardous, and can damage an employee’s hearing if he or she is exposed for a long enough period. An extremely loud noise (140 dB or above – think gunshots or a jet engine) could cause permanent hearing damage after only a short exposure.

A good rule of thumb: if you must raise your voice to speak with someone three feet away, you are experiencing hazardous noise.

Stop Noise at the Source

One way to reduce noise exposure is by replacing loud equipment with quieter equipment, perhaps as part of your normal equipment replacement cycle. Did you know that buying a tool rated just 3 dB lower than your current tool cuts the noise energy reaching the user’s ears in half? To help you find quieter equipment, NIOSH has created the Buy Quiet Power Tool Database. It lists a wide variety of tools, allowing you to compare drills, saws and sanders to help you make a better (and quieter) buying or renting decision.

You can also help make your current equipment quieter with proper maintenance. Apply needed lubrication, use sharp blades and change seals. Replace worn parts and consider installing mufflers, if available.

Reduce Exposure to Noise

Even if the noise itself can’t be reduced, you can help protect your employees by reducing their exposure to it. Sound barriers can be built, or prefabricated barriers can be purchased and installed. Especially noisy activities could be scheduled for times of the day when fewer people are working.

Keep Employees in the Loop

Employees should understand the noise hazards that may affect them in the workplace. Discuss hazardous noise at safety meetings and place warning signs at areas where high noise can be expected.

Provide Appropriate Hearing Protection

Ideally, you should do your best to eliminate as many noise exposures as possible. If your employees’ noise exposure still exceeds 85 dB over an 8-hour period, you should create a hearing protection program to protect employees. A program includes employer-provided audiometric testing, training and personal protective equipment (hearing protection).

Hearing protection might take the form of ear plugs (disposable or reusable) or ear muffs. Depending on noise levels, employees may need to wear more than one type of hearing protection at the same time to be adequately protected. 

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