What Did You Say?

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Midstate Education and Service Foundation (formerly: Midstate Central Council, AFL-CIO)

Summary Statement

A brief discussion of the hazards of noise and some practical suggestions to reduce exposures.

Did you ever notice that heavy equipment operators, laborers, and carpenters are often the noisiest bunch in the bar or at the company or union picnic? Well, they're the noisiest on the job too, what with backhoes, jackhammers, power saws, and pneumatic tools. Unlike at the bar, though, the loud and prolonged noise their tools make at the worksite can be a hazard for all of us.


Noise is no different than any other hazard that construction workers face.


Have you ever had to raise your voice to get the attention of someone working close by? Have you ever had ringing in your ears? Have you ever had a temporary loss of hearing? Do you have difficulty hearing on the telephone? Does your spouse complain that you don't listen when she or he talks? Yes to any of these questions means that you may have a hearing problem caused by exposure to dangerous levels of noise at work.

Noise is no different than any other hazard that construction and maintenance workers face. It is a real hazard that can lead to real disability. And there are ways to prevent hearing loss.

Protect Your Hearing

The first step in preventing hearing loss is to recognize that some people can suffer hearing loss from noise that wouldn't bother other people. Which person are you? There is no way of knowing. So it pays to avoid exposure to dangerous levels of noise. What are dangerous levels?

Noise levels are measured in decibels (DB). The noise level of circular saws can be as high as 102 decibels; jackhammers 111 decibels, and riveting on steel 130. Compare this to what OSHA allows: no more than 90 decibels averaged over an 8-hour day, no more than 95 dB over 4 hours, with a maximum of 115 dB for 15 minutes. If these noise limits are exceeded, then your employer is required to provide quieter machines or mufflers (called "engineering controls" by OSHA) or rotate workers to quieter jobs (called "administrative controls"). If these aren't enough to reduce exposure to excessive noise, then your employer must provide hearing protection such as ear muffs or ear plugs. And there must be a hearing conservation program, including noise monitoring, education and hearing tests.

What You Can Do

First, tell the operators, laborers, carpenters, and ironworkers to quiet down. That's only partly a joke, because in a way it might work, if you're polite! You can also ask the safety person to measure noise levels, and then do something if they are too loud. Heavy machinery and tools are being made that produce less noise. Getting and using these safer tools can help a lot. (Call us if you want help identifying quieter tools.)

If the noise levels are still too high, you should wear ear muffs or ear plugs. You may have a concern that if you are wearing ear muffs you won't be able to hear the warning signal of a machine backing up toward you. This is a real concern and a real safety issue. However, ear muffs that can filter out machinery noise and allow warning yells or whistles through are available.

Many people think that if you have a hearing problem it will go away after you get away from the noise. This is sometimes true. But often hearing problems can become permanent, especially after several years of exposure to excessive noise. So listen up for safety. If you listen up now, you will be able to listen better later.