Non-industrial Businesses Not Immune to Noise Risk

Studies show noise levels in some non-industrial businesses, such as sports bars and night clubs, reach levels exceeding federal noise protection standards and could put workers and patrons at risk of hearing damage.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires workers to wear hearing protection if they spend eight hours per day in an environment where noise levels average 90 decibels or higher. This translates to the approximate volume of truck traffic or a train whistle at 500 feet.

U.S. regulations are less strict than those in much of the industrialized world, where 85 decibels typically is the maximum noise level allowed without hearing protection. Enforcement of U.S. regulations rarely occurs, especially since the Office of Noise Abatement and Control lost its federal funding three decades ago.

Government agencies and audiologists largely disagree over the effect of decibel increases. Under OSHA standards, noise dose doubles and permissible exposure time shrinks by half with every five-decibel increase in volume. However, the consensus of hearing professionals is that noise dose doubles every 3 decibels.

For example, a loud nightclub with the music pumping at 99 decibels generates a maximum recommended exposure of only 19 minutes. By comparison, a power saw at 3 feet generates 110 decibels.

OSHA has tried to strengthen its noise requirements, but met with stiff opposition from business groups. The agency announced plans in 2010 that would have required employers to soundproof loud workplaces in addition to providing hearing protection. The National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argued the guidelines would be too costly, and OSHA withdrew the proposal a month later.

For more information about how Saint Francis Medical Center can help with workplace noise safety, call Chad Clippard, referral services manager, at 573-331-3019.