Protecting Yourself from Noise in Construction

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  • OSHA 3498-12N 2011

  • If you are a construction worker, this pocket guideis written for you. Small contractors should alsofind this information helpful. You are encouragedto go to the references in this document and tothe OSHA website for more information.

    This guidance document is not a standardor regulation, and it creates no new legalobligations. The guidance is advisory in nature,informational in content, and is intended tohelp construction workers and supervisorsunderstand and reduce noise exposure on jobsites. Employers are required to comply withsafety and health standards as issued andenforced by either the Federal OccupationalSafety and Health Administration (OSHA), oran OSHA-approved State Plan. In addition,Section 5(a)(1) of The Occupational Safety andHealth Act, the General Duty Clause, requiresemployers to provide their workers with aworkplace free from recognized hazards likelyto cause death or serious physical harm.Employers can be cited for violating theGeneral Duty Clause if there is such a recog-nized hazard and they do not take reasonablesteps to prevent or abate the hazard. However,failure to implement these guidelines is not, initself, a violation of the General Duty Clause.Citations can only be based on standards,regulations, and the General Duty Clause.

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  • Contents

    Why is job site noise control important to me? 2How does hearing damage happen? 3How do I know if my tools or job site are toonoisy? 5

    Sound Level Meter and Noise Dosimeter 52-3 Foot Rule and Noise Indicator 6Sound Level Chart 7

    What can be done about job site noise levels? 8Plan Ahead 8Noise Control at the Job Site 9Noise Hazard Control Process 9Maintain and Retrofit Equipment 10

    What can be done if engineering andadministrative controls are not enough? 12

    Proper Selection and Use ofHearing Protection 12Regular Hearing Screenings 13Hearing Protective Devices 14

    My job site is too noisy. What can I do? 16Am I protected if I call OSHA? 17Additional OSHA Assistance 18OSHA Regional Offices 21Appendix: More Information onNoise Protection 23

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    Why is job site noise controlimportant to me?

    Exposure to high levels of noise can causepermanent hearing loss. Neither surgery nor ahearing aid can help correct this type of hearingloss. Construction sites have many noisyoperations and can be a significant source ofnoise exposure.

    Loud noise can also reduce work productivityand contribute to workplace accidents bymaking it difficult to hear warning signals.Hearing loss from loud noise limits your abilityto hear high frequencies, understand speech,and reduces your ability to communicate,which can lead to social isolation. Hearing losscan affect your quality of life by interfering withyour ability to enjoy socializing with friends,playing with your children or grandchildren, orparticipating in other activities.

    Damage to your hearing can be prevented, butonce permanent noise-induced hearing lossoccurs, it cannot be cured or reversed. Hearingloss usually occurs gradually, so you may notrealize it is happening until it is too late.

    Noise can also affect your body in other ways.A recent study found that workers persistentlyexposed to excessive occupational noise maybe two-to-three times more likely to suffer fromserious heart disease than workers who werenot exposed.1

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    1Gan, W. et al., Exposure to Occupational Noiseand Cardiovascular Disease in the United States:NHANES 1999-2004, Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oem.2010.055269.


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    You may have hearing loss if: You have a hard time hearing people in

    groups or meetings or if there is back-ground noise.

    People sound as if they are mumbling. You have to ask people to repeat what they

    say. You have trouble understanding others on

    the telephone. You have ringing or noises in one or both

    ears. You have trouble hearing back-up alarms

    or the ringing of a cell phone.

    How does hearing damagehappen?

    A one-time exposure to a sudden powerfulnoise, such as an explosion, may damage yourhearing instantly. Prolonged exposures to loudnoise can lead to a gradual, but permanent,loss of hearing.

    Damage can occur within the ear at noiselevels similar to that of running a lawn mowerfor eight hours. At first, this may cause atemporary loss of hearing that may last as longas 14-16 hours. With repeated exposure to highnoise levels and periodic exposures to veryhigh noise levels (e.g., with the use of nailguns), as is common at most constructionjob sites, your hearing may not fully recover.More often, the loss of hearing occurs slowlyover time from exposure to moderate levels ofnoise. When that happens, the hearing lossbecomes permanent. This is why workplacenoise is sometimes referred to as a stealthlong-term hazard because it is a painless,gradual process.

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    Hearing loss occurs when cilia, tiny hair cellsthat line the inner ear, are damaged. At first, thedamage happens to the cilia that receive thehigher frequencies. Gradually, noise damagesmore of the ear and affects how speech isheard. If you hear muffled or distorted speechsounds, that may be an indication that asubstantial hearing loss has already occurred.

    In addition to hearing loss, you also mayexperience ringing in the ears. This is calledtinnitus, and can occur even without otherapparent hearing loss.

    Healthy inner ear lined with cilia, tiny hair cellsthat help you hear.

    Inner ear showing damage to the cilia.




















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    How do I know if my toolsor job site are too noisy?

    Sound intensity is measured in decibels. Whendecibels are adjusted for how the ear sensessound, the sound level intensity is measured asdBA. Decibels are measured on a logarithmicscale, which means that a small increase in thenumber of decibels results in a huge change inthe amount of noise and the potential damageto a persons hearing. So, if the level increasesby 3 dBA this doubles the amount of the noiseand reduces the recommended amount ofexposure time by half.

    Sound Level Meter and Noise DosimeterSafety and healthinspectors measure soundor noise levels using adevice called a sound levelmeter. The microphoneis positioned at the usersear level. Equipment thatis determined to be loudcan be labeled with ahazardous noise sticker.

    OSHA uses noisedosimeters to documentthe average noise expo-sure over your workingday or of a particular taskfor part of your workday.

    OSHA recommends thatworkplace noise levels bekept below 85 dBA as an8-hour time-weightedaverage. As the noise levelincreases, it damages yourhearing more quickly.

    Sound level meter
















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    Research indicates that your hearing can bedamaged by regular 8-hour exposures to 85dBA. When noise is as loud as 100 dBA (likea jackhammer or stud welder), it can takerepeated exposures of as little as 1 hour perday to damage your hearing.

    The National Institute for Occupational Safetyand Health (NIOSH) has recommended that allworker exposures to noise should be controlledbelow a level equivalent to 85 dBA for eighthours to minimize occupational noise-inducedhearing loss. NIOSH has found that significantnoise-induced hearing loss occurs at theexposure levels equivalent to the OSHA PELbased on updated information obtained fromliterature reviews. NIOSH also recommends a3 dBA exchange rate so that every increase by3 dBA represents a doubling of the amount ofthe noise and halves the recommended amountof exposure time.

    2-3 Foot Rule and Noise IndicatorWhen a sound level meter is not available, youshould use the 2-to-3 foot rule: Stand about anarms length away from your coworker: If youhave to raise your voice to be heard 2-3 feetaway, you should assume that the sound levelis at or above 85 dBA.

    A personal noise indicator is a warning device.It indicates if your immediate exposure is lessthan or greater than 85 dBA. It flashes green ifthe sound level is under 85 dBA and red whenabove 85 dBA.

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    Sound Level ChartEquipment and daily activities at constructionjob sites can expose workers to high levels ofnoise. Sound levels on the chart below arelisted in decibels (dBA) the larger the number,the higher the volume or decibel level. Howloud the noise is (volume), how long the noiselasts, and how close you are to the noise are allimportant in determining the hazard.

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    What can be done about jobsite noise levels?

    Plan AheadOne of the best ways to reduce exposure tohazardous noise on a work site is by planningfor potential exposure before activities start.When jobs produce high noise levels, there areways to reduce your exposure other than or inaddition to hearing protectors.

    For instance, your employer or supervisorcan buy materials to build sound barriers orschedule noisy activities during hours whenfewer people are working. Your employer canalso rent or buy quieter equipment.

    Your employer should hold daily or weeklysafety meetings to discuss ways to limit highnoise levels and other hazards. During safetymeetings, the general contractor can ask sub-contractors to describe the planned tasks forthe day or week where hazardous noise mightbe generated, as well as what equipment willbe used; you can use these opportunities to talkabout ways to limit exposure.

    Even changes in the noise level that seem small(e.g., 3 dBA) are actually significant reductionsin the noise.

    Here are some specific ways to limitexposure: Plan to make or use prefabricated noise

    barriers. Ask your employer to buy or rent quieter

    equipment/tools. Limit the hours you work in hazardous

    noise areas.

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    Identify equipment and work areas wheresigns can be posted to make other workersaware of high noise areas.

    Use hearing protection to supplementnoise reduction.

    Noise Control at the Job SiteThe work site is where workers can have themost impact by working with employers toidentify hazardous equipment, conduct hazardassessments, and apply the control processexplained below. Employer support for provid-ing supplies (acoustical insulation, extensioncords, pre-fabricated noise barriers), hand tools,and sufficient set-up time are essential.

    Noise Hazard Control ProcessThe easiest way to help lower noise levels atyour work site is to remember a three-stepnoise hazard control process:

    Reduce It: Reduce the noise by using thequietest equipment available. For example,choose a smaller, quieter generator.

    Move It: Move the equipment farther awaywith the use of extension cords, additionalwelding leads, and air hoses (following cur-rent OSHA standards). Noise levels go downas we increase our distance from a noisyobject. Move the generator farther away orface it in a direction that is away from wheremost people are working. If you are notrequired to be in a high noise area, move toa quieter area.

    Block It: Block the noise by building tempo-rary barriers of plywood or other on-sitematerials to keep the noise from reaching

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    workers. Place a five-sided, oversized wood-en box over the generator. Add fire-resistantacoustical absorbing material (foam) insidethe box. If the generator sits on soil or sand,that will help absorb some of the noise.

    Maintain and Retrofit EquipmentProper maintenance of equipment and toolscan result in lower noise levels. Changing seals,lubricating parts, using sharp blades and bits,installing mufflers, and replacing faulty or wornequipment or parts can reduce the noise levelssignificantly on the job site.

    Do you know of equipment on your job sitethat could benefit from regular maintenanceto reduce noise levels? Your employer shouldensure that there is a regular maintenanceprogram and that everyone follows themaintenance schedule.

    Building a plywood barrier











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    With some ingenuity, even older, noisierequipment can be modified by adding mufflers,new seals, or insulated panels. Employees canuse noise reduction equipment accessorieswhen made available by the employer.Employers can look for ways to reduce thesound intensity of tools in their currentinventory.

    Employers can reduce job site noise levels byfollowing OSHA recommendations: Identify major noise sources and possible

    control solutions. Plan ahead and limit worker exposure as

    much as possible. Perform regular maintenance.

    ReminderOSHA currently allows your employer to relyon any combination of (1) hearing protectivedevices with a hearing conservationprogram, (2) engineering controls, and (3)administrative controls to effectively reduceworker exposures below 90 dBA.

    OSHA also recommends that your employerprovide and that you use hearingprotective devices any time site exposuresmeet or exceed 85 dBA.

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    What can be done ifengineering and

    administrative controlsare not enough?

    Proper Selection andUse of Hearing Protection

    If other control strategies to reduce noise levelscant be used or fail to reduce noise levelsbelow OSHAs permissible exposure limits(PELs), wear a hearing protective device (29CFR 1926.52). There are many different types ofhearing protection. Each type is designed forcertain noise conditions. They include the typeslisted in the following table. But remember unless you wear them properly and wear themall the time in high noise areas, the devices willnot be effective.

    Convenience and comfort are important forfrequent use of hearing protective devices.Earmuffs and foam earplugs in most cases offerthe most noise reduction. However, preformedplugs or canal caps may be more convenientwhere construction work generates moderatedaily average noise levels. There is no onedevice that is the best type for all situations.

    Your employer is responsible for selecting,fitting, and maintaining hearing protectivedevices and must provide them to you at nocost and train you in their use (29 CFR1926.101).

    If you are not provided hearing protection forhigh noise work tasks, ask for it. If the employerrefuses to provide hearing protectors, you canrequest an OSHA inspection.

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    Contractors and workers should consider thefollowing when selecting and wearing protec-tive gear: the noise level of the task, communi-cation needs, convenience, comfort, hygiene,noise reduction of the hearing protectivedevices, and hearing ability.

    Each type of hearing protection has manufac-turers directions for use and maintenance.Follow these directions and replace or fix thedevices when they appear worn, dirty, orbroken. Always wear hearing protection toprotect yourself from high noise exposures,both on the work site and at home.

    Neither portable music player headphonesnor hearing aids are substitutes for hearingprotective devices.

    Regular Hearing ScreeningsIf you are routinely exposed to hazardous levelsof noise, your employer should provide yearlyhearing tests to monitor your hearing loss overtime. If your employer does not provide thesetests, you should have your hearing tested byan audiologist. The initial test (baseline) will beused as the reference test. Future tests shouldbe compared to the baseline to see if you needto do more to protect your hearing.

    These hearing tests can detect small shifts inhearing ability that have taken place sinceprevious tests. When changes in hearing abilityare detected, a retest is common to determinewhether the change is permanent or temporary.Tests are relatively inexpensive and take about20-30 minutes to conduct and get results.


    Hearing Protective Devices

    Type Features Concerns

    Fits many differentlyshaped ear canals.Provides goodprotection for mostnoisy environments.Convenient,disposable.

    Many have flangesand handles. Comein different sizes.Come with cords,convenient to carry.Reusable.Washable.

    Molded to users ear.Always comfortable.Long-term wear.Best for difficult-to-fit ears.

    On a band, can beworn under chin,over head, orbehind neck.Can be put on andtaken off quickly.

    Easy to use andwear. Fit mostpeople.Easy to keep clean.

    Flat reduction ofnoise over allfrequencies.Have a baffle toreduce impact noise.Radio Communicationwhile still reducingnoise.

    Must be insertedproperly to get thehighest possibleprotection.If the plug doesntmake a good seal, itwont protect yourhearing.

    Preformed so maynot fit as wide avariety of ear canalsas foam plugs.May require a differ-ent size for each ear.Must keep themclean.

    Must be made bya licensed hearingprotection provider.

    Not as comfortableas other devices.Not as muchprotection as otherdevices.

    Can be hot andheavy.May be more difficultto get a good fit withglasses and/or mayinterfere with otherprotective gear.

    Can be expensive.Must be customfitted.

    Photos: NIOSH; Howard Leight; Aearo Technologies, a 3M Company;Bilsom; WorkSafe BC; Northern Safety and Industrial.

    Remember:The best hearing protective device is the one

    youll actually wear.

    Roll down foam



    Canal caps






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    When looking at yourhearing test, levelsgreater than 25 dBAindicate impairment.Furthermore, losses inthe higher frequencies(3000, 4000, 6000 hertz)are more significantand you shoulddiscuss them withyour audiologist.

    You also can do daily monitoring of yourhearing with a simple self-test. This works bestif you drive yourself to work. When you reachyour job site and are turning off the car engine,turn the radio on so it is just barely loudenough to hear (talk radio stations work wellfor this exercise) and go on with your day.When you return at the end of the work shift,check to see if you can still hear the radio withthe power on, but the engine off. If you canthear the radio, think about what may havedamaged your hearing and how you couldbetter protect your hearing.

    Remember the 3 steps to noise control:Reduce it: Use the quietest equipmentavailable.Move it: Locate noisy equipment away fromworkers.Block it: Erect temporary barriers to blocknoise from reaching workers.


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    My job site is too noisy.What can I do?

    First, if you feel comfortable, speak with yoursupervisor. If you are a union member, raise theissue with your union representative. You can alsocall or write OSHA.

    How do I file a complaint with OSHA? Mail, e-mail, or fax the nearest OSHA office

    (visit or call 1-800-321-OSHA(6742) for the address of the nearest OSHAoffice) and request an inspection.

    File a complaint by phone call (800) 321-OSHA (6742); the teletypewriter (TTY) numberis (877) 889-5627.

    File online from OSHAs home

    Most online and phone complaints may beresolved informally over the phone with youremployer. Written complaints that are signed bya worker or representative and filed with OSHAare more likely to result in an OSHA inspection.

    Complete the OSHA complaint form, then faxor mail it back. Include your name, address, andtelephone number so that we can contact you.All complaints are kept confidential.

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    Am I protected if I call OSHA?The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act)prohibits employers from discriminating againsttheir employees for using their rights under theOSH Act. These rights include filing an OSHAcomplaint, participating in an inspection or talkingto the inspector or raising a safety and healthissue with the employer.

    If you believe that your employer has discriminat-ed against you because you exercised your safetyand health rights, contact your local OSHA officeright away. Under the OSH Act, you only have 30days to report discrimination.

    Call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and ask to beconnected to your local office.

    Discrimination can include: Firing or laying off Denying benefits Blacklisting Intimidation Denying overtime or promotion Reducing pay or hours Disciplining


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    Additional OSHA AssistanceCompliance Assistance SpecialistsOSHA has compliance assistance specialiststhroughout the nation who can provide informa-tion to employers and workers about OSHA stan-dards, short educational programs on specifichazards or OSHA rights and responsibilities, andinformation on additional compliance assistanceresources. Contact your local OSHA office formore information.

    OSHA Consultation Service for Small EmployersThe OSHA Consultation Service provides freeassistance to small employers to help themidentify and correct hazards, and to improve theirinjury and illness prevention program. Most ofthese services are delivered on site by stategovernment agencies or universities using well-trained professional staff.

    Consultation services are available to privatesector employers. Priority is given to smallemployers with the most hazardous operationsor in the most high-hazard industries. Theseprograms are largely funded by OSHA and aredelivered at no cost to employers who requesthelp. Consultation services are separate fromenforcement activities. To request such services,an employer can phone or write to the OSHAConsultation Program. See the Small Businesssection of OSHA's website for contact informationfor the consultation offices in every state.

    Safety and Health AchievementRecognition Program

    Under the consultation program, certain exempla-ry employers may request participation in OSHA'sSafety and Health Achievement RecognitionProgram (SHARP). Eligibility for participationincludes, but is not limited to, receiving a full-service, comprehensive consultation visit,


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    correcting all identified hazards, and developingan effective injury and illness prevention program.

    OSHA Educational MaterialsOSHA has many types of educational materialsavailable in print or online, including: Brochures/booklets cover a wide variety of

    job hazards and other topics; Fact Sheets and QuickFacts contain basic

    background information on safety and healthhazards;

    Guidance documents provide detailedexaminations of specific safety and health issues;

    Online Safety and HealthTopics Pages; Posters; QuickCards are small, laminated cards that

    provide brief workers rights and safety andhealth information; and

    QuickTakes is OSHAs free, twice-monthlyonline newsletter. To sign up for QuickTakesvisit OSHAs website at andclick on QuickTakes at the top of the page.

    To view materials available online or for a listingof free publications, visit OSHAs website You can also call 1-800-321-OSHA(6742) to order publications, to ask questions or toget more information.

    NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation:Getting Help on Health HazardsThe National Institute for Occupational Safety andHealth (NIOSH) is a federal agency that conductsscientific and medical research on workers safetyand health. At no cost to employers or workers,NIOSH can help identify and correct potentialhealth hazards in the workplace through its HealthHazard Evaluation (HHE) program.

    Workers, union representatives and employerscan request a NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation.

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    An HHE is often requested when there is a higherthan expected rate of a disease or injury in agroup of workers. These situations may be theresult of an unknown cause, a new hazard, or amixture of sources.

    To request a NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation, orfind out more about the program: Call the NIOSH toll-free Information Service at

    1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636); or Go online at

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    OSHA Regional OfficesRegion IBoston Regional Office(CT*, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT*)JFK Federal Building, Room E340Boston, MA 02203(617) 565-9860 (617) 565-9827 Fax

    Region IINew York Regional Office(NJ*, NY*, PR*, VI*)201 Varick Street, Room 670New York, NY 10014(212) 337-2378 (212) 337-2371 Fax

    Region IIIPhiladelphia Regional Office(DE, DC, MD*, PA, VA*, WV)The Curtis Center170 S. Independence Mall WestSuite 740 WestPhiladelphia, PA 19106-3309(215) 861-4900 (215) 861-4904 Fax

    Region IVAtlanta Regional Office(AL, FL, GA, KY*, MS, NC*, SC*, TN*)61 Forsyth Street, SW, Room 6T50Atlanta, GA 30303(678) 237-0400 (678) 237-0447 Fax

    Region VChicago Regional Office(IL*, IN*, MI*, MN*, OH, WI)230 South Dearborn StreetRoom 3244Chicago, IL 60604(312) 353-2220 (312) 353-7774 Fax

    Region VIDallas Regional Office(AR, LA, NM*, OK, TX)525 Griffin Street, Room 602Dallas, TX 75202(972) 850-4145 (972) 850-4149 Fax(972) 850-4150 FSO Fax

  • Region VIIKansas City Regional Office(IA*, KS, MO, NE)Two Pershing Square Building2300 Main Street, Suite 1010Kansas City, MO 64108-2416(816) 283-8745 (816) 283-0547 Fax

    Region VIIIDenver Regional Office(CO, MT, ND, SD, UT*, WY*)1999 Broadway, Suite 1690Denver, CO 80202(720) 264-6550 (720) 264-6585 Fax

    Region IXSan Francisco Regional Office(AZ*, CA*, HI*, NV*, and American Samoa,Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands)90 7th Street, Suite 18100San Francisco, CA 94103(415) 625-2547 (415) 625-2534 Fax

    Region XSeattle Regional Office(AK*, ID, OR*, WA*)300 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1280Seattle, WA 98104-2397(206) 757-6700 (206) 757-6705 Fax

    *These states and territories operate their ownOSHA-approved job safety and health plans andcover state and local government employees aswell as private sector employees. The Connecticut,Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virgin Islandsprograms cover public employees only. (Privatesector workers in these states are covered by FederalOSHA). States with approved programs must havestandards that are identical to, or at least as effectiveas, the Federal OSHA standards.

    Note: To get contact information for OSHA areaoffices, OSHA-approved state plans and OSHAconsultation projects, please visit us online or call us at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).


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  • Appendix: More Informationon Noise Protection

    Here are some online references on noisecontrol and hearing conservation:

    Construction Noise in British Columbia, by theWorkers Compensation Board: ConstructionNoise.pdf

    eLCOSH, the Electronic Library of ConstructionOccupational Safety and Health:

    How Loud IsToo Loud? A guide you can down-load with decibel levels:

    Laborers Health and Safety Fund of NorthAmerica (LHSFNA):

    National Institute for Occupational Safety andHealth (NIOSH) Noise Meter:

    NIOSH PowerTools Database:

    OSHAs Field Operations Manual:

    OSHA Hearing Conservation for the Hearing-ImpairedWorker:

    OSHA Noise and Hearing Conservation eTool:

    OSHA Noise and Hearing Conservation Safetyand HealthTopics Page:


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  • Standards for States with OSHA-approved StatePlans:

    The personal hearing protection devices chart onpage 14 was adapted from ToolboxTalks: HearingConservation in the Shipbuilding Industry, devel-oped through the Alliance Program, an OSHACooperative Program: PDFs/Tool Box Talk series - hearing conserva-tion in Shipbuilding - FINAL - 042409.pdf

    What CausesTinnitus?:


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  • (800) 321-OSHA (6742)

  • U.S. Department of (800) 321-OSHA (6742)

    For more information:

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    If you have

    questions, call OSHA.

    We can help.