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Assessing the Impact of Workplace Noise

Nov 05, 2020

Hazardous noise is a major concern in many workplaces. Noise levels above 70 decibelsOil rig worker wearing headphones (dB) can cause hearing damage over a prolonged period of exposure, while noise levels above 120 dB can cause immediate hearing damage. A new tool developed by researchers from the University of Michigan allows users to estimate workplace noise exposures on a national scale.

The Job Exposure Matrix (JEM) contains estimates of mean time-weighted average (TWA) noise exposure levels [in A-weighted decibels (dBA)], coded to standardized industry and occupation classifications, as well as estimates of the prevalence of overexposure to noise. To develop the matrix, researchers collected more than 989,000 valid noise measurements dating from the 1960s through 2015 that represent workers in 274 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) and 430 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes.

The research found that while average noise levels have decreased over time, harmful noise exposure is still common in several industries. For instance, the logging industry had an average TWA noise level of 93.6 dBA from 2006 to 2013, which exceeds the OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 90 dBA. According to the researchers, 77% of measurements exceeded the OSHA PEL. Road, bridge and highway construction also had an average TWA noise level of 89.7 dBA during the same period. While this average is below OSHA’s PEL, 53% of measurements exceeded the PEL.

The JEM provides industrial hygienists, occupational health practitioners, epidemiologists and others with access to these noise exposure estimates through a web-based app that allows users to search by industries and occupations to determine which workplaces may need additional measures to reduce exposure to hazardous noise to prevent hearing loss.

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