Occupational Noise Exposure: OSHA’s 1926.52

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Background & History

OSHA estimates approximately 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging occupational noise every year. Not only does hearing loss have a distressing quality-of-life impact for those workers and their families, but U.S. businesses annually pay upwards of $1.5 million in penalties for not protecting workers from noise.

The U.S.’s OSHA Noise Exposure Regulation became effective in 1971. Since 1983, that regulation has included an amendment to require specific components related to hearing protection, audiometric testing and training.

OSHA’s 1926.52 consists of parts “a” through “d.” Each subpart addresses a different aspect of occupational noise exposure.

1926.52(a)—“Protection against the effects of noise exposure shall be provided when the sound levels exceed those shown in Table D-2 (see chart) when measured on the A-scale of a standard sound level meter at slow response.”

1926.52(b)—”When employees are subjected to sound levels exceeding those listed in Table D-2, feasible administrative or engineering controls shall be utilized. If such controls fail to reduce sound levels within the levels of the table, PPE, as required in subpart E, shall be provided and used to reduce sound levels within the levels of the table.”

1926.52(c)—“If the variations in noise level involve maxima at intervals of one second or less, it is to be considered continuous.”

1926.52(d)(1)—“In all cases where the sound levels exceed the values shown herein, a continuing, effective hearing conservation program shall be administered.”

1926.53 (d)(2) consists of the following chart:

The standard states, in subpart (d)(2), “When the daily noise exposure is composed of two or more periods of noise exposure of different levels, their combined effect should be considered, rather than the individual effect of each.”

Importance of Standard

Noise is one of the most pervasive occupational health problems and is often present in many industrial and construction processes. Workers can suffer permanent hearing loss when exposed to high levels of noise for prolonged periods. Moreover, repeated exposures to loud noise, even for short periods, can also result in permanent hearing damage. Once permanent noise-induced hearing loss occurs, it cannot be reversed; there is no “cure.” And, because hearing loss usually occurs gradually, workers might not even realize it’s happening—until it’s too late.

Because it can be a painless, gradual progression, occupational noise is often referred to as a “stealth long-term hazard.” Noise-induced hearing loss can be reduced or eliminated through the successful application of engineering controls and hearing conservation programs. If those controls are feasible, employers must implement an effective hearing conservation program.

WHAT TO KNOW: Compliance Requirements

The standard is stated per OSHA, above, but what does that mean in layman’s terms? OSHA explains that the following can be an indication that noise may be an issue in the workplace if employees:

  • Hear ringing or humming in their ears when they leave work.
  • Have to shout to be heard by a coworker an arm’s length away.
  • Experience temporary hearing loss after leaving work.

According to OSHA, employers can protect their workers from excessive noise and prevent hearing damage by using “quieter machines, isolating the noise source, limiting worker exposure or using use effective protective equipment” that can modulate noise below certain thresholds.

Employers and workers can also use a tool to combat workplace exposure to excessive noise; NIOSH’s Sound Level Meter App measures workplace sound levels (see “Resources” section, below). The app can help reduce occupational noise-
related hearing loss by providing guidance to allow stakeholders to make informed decisions about exposures.

Resources:

  • To read the entire standard, visit https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1926/1926.52
  • NIOSH’s Sound Level Meter App: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/app.html
  • OSHA also has numerous blogs and articles that directly address occupational noise exposure in different work situations/settings:
  • 52 – Effective hearing conservation program elements for the Construction Industry.
  • 52 – OSHA’s regulations apply only to employer-employee relationship and not to employer activities that can affect the general public.
  • 52 – The hearing conservation amendment does not cover construction or agriculture.
  • 52 – Use of Music Headphones on Construction Sites
  • 52 – Welding and Noise in confined space

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