At low levels, noise can be irritating, but at high levels noise can actually damage your hearing. As you might expect, hearing loss becomes worse with exposures that are longer and louder.
Exposure to noise at 85 decibels A-weighted (“A-weighted” refers to one of the international standards for measuring sound), or dBA, for longer than eight hours can cause noise-induced hearing loss. How loud is too loud? If you need to raise your voice to be understood at a distance of three feet, you should think about taking action. If you regularly work in noisy areas, you are likely a participant in Fermilab’s Hearing Conservation Program, which requires annual training and audiometric testing.
If engineering or administrative controls cannot be implemented to reduce noise exposure levels, hearing protection devices are the next best lines of defense. At Fermilab, regularly occupied areas that exceed 85 dBA are clearly posted. In most cases, supplies of earplugs are maintained in the posted areas. If not, you can find various styles of plugs and muffs at Fermilab’s stockroom.
Although noise exposures occur at work, many people participate in non-work activities that can present a greater exposure. This is especially true when using engine-powered equipment for yard maintenance or recreational activities. The use of a hearing protection device is often the best course of action in these cases.
If you are not a participant in the lab’s hearing conservation program, but are concerned about your exposure to noise, please contact your supervisor or ES&H group.