In the United States, hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition after high blood pressure and arthritis. Short-term exposure to loud noise can cause a temporary change in a person’s hearing (ears may feel stuffed up) or a ringing in your ears (tinnitus). These short-term problems may go away within a few minutes or hours after leaving the noise. But repeated exposures to loud noise can lead to permanent ringing in the ears or hearing loss. For the construction industry, OSHA tells us our noise exposure cannot exceed an average of 90 decibels (dba) over an eight-hour period (OSHA 1926.52).


  • Heavy equipment like milling machines and pavers
  • Excavators and dozers
  • Concrete saws
  • Chipping hammers
  • Air hammers
  • Hydraulic hammers


  • A person must raise their voice to be heard by another person three feet away – noise is about 85 decibels (dBA).
  • A person must shout to be heard by another person three feet away – noise is about 95 decibels (dBA).
  • A person hears ringing or humming in their ears at the end of the workday.
  • A person notices temporary hearing loss at any point when leaving work.


Hearing protection is labeled with a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). When worn correctly, the NRR tell us the amount of noise or sound reduction we can expect when wearing hearing protection. Due to changing factors such as size, worn correctly, etc., OSHA suggests reducing the NRR by 50% for a true noise reduction in the field. If you combine two types of hearing protection together, ear plugs with earmuffs, you only add an NRR of five to the higher NRR form of hearing protection.


  • Earplugs – when worn correctly can give you the highest NRR.
  • Earmuffs – form air‐tight seal over the ear, NRR up to 30 dB; less effective when using eyewear.
  • Canal Caps – lower NRR; use pressure from a headband to hold the earplugs in place.


  • Repeated exposure to high levels of noise over long periods of time will reduce your ability to hear.
  • You may not notice a loss of hearing until a substantial loss has occurred.
  • Hearing loss is typically gradual but is irreversible.

Download a printable PDF and recording form here.

Construction Noise – Hearing Protection

Originally published 04/04/2018

The construction industry is a high-risk industry for noise-related ill health. Many construction processes are noisy. If you must raise your voice to have a normal conversation when standing about 2 meters apart for at least part of the day, then noise levels on the site may be at a level which could damage health. There could also be a problem if there are sudden extremely loud noises on the site, such as from cartridge operated tools, or if at the end of the day you notice that your hearing is muffled, or your ears are ringing. Quality of life can be badly affected by noise induced hearing loss. Affected people may find that:

  • Conversation becomes difficult or impossible.
  • They have trouble using the telephone.
  • They find it difficult to catch sounds like ‘t’, ‘d’, and ‘s’, confusing similar words.
  • They may suffer from permanent tinnitus (ringing, whistling, buzzing or humming in the ears) which can be a distressing condition and can lead to other problems, including depression and loss of sleep.
  • Their family complains about the television being too loud.

Eliminating noisy processes or substituting them for a less noisy process are the best ways of dealing with noise on a construction site. If it is not possible to remove workers from the noisy area then choosing quieter equipment can also be effective. As a last resort, hearing protection and hearing protection zones may be appropriate. Ways noise can be reduced include:

  • Eliminate noise during design.
  • Substitute a less noisy process.
  • Remove workers from the vicinity of noisy work.
  • Select quiet equipment.

It is not the best practice to rely on hearing protection alone to control noise exposure. Hearing protection should only be used when extra protection is needed above what has been achieved by noise control techniques such as elimination of noisy tasks, substituting quieter processes, removing workers from noisy areas and selection of quiet equipment. If protection is still required after taking these measures:

  • Make sure the protection provided gives enough protection – aim to get below 85 db at the ear, but don’t provide excessive protection as protectors which cut out too much noise causing isolation or an unwillingness to wear them.
  • Target the use of protectors to the noisy tasks and jobs in a working day.
  • Select protectors which are suitable for the working environment – consider how comfortable and hygienic they are.
  • Think about how they will be worn with other protective equipment such as hard hats, dust masks, and eye protection.
  • Provide a range of protectors so that workers can choose ones which will work best for them.
  • Make sure workers are trained on how and when to use the hearing protectors.

Have your hearing checked each year and wear the hearing protection provided by your employer. Many workers are afraid they won’t hear warning signals or coworkers if they wear their hearing protection. But, all should be aware that some new protectors can let in voices and block other noises.

Download the recording form here.

Amendments and Hearing Notices

The Indiana Register has published the following notices of interest to ICI members:

  1. Continuous Opacity Monitoring Requirements for Portland Cement Plants.
    The Environmental Rules Board will hold public hearing on amendments to 326 IAC 3-5-1 concerning continuous opacity monitoring requirements for Portland cement plants on February 13, 2019, at 1:30 p.m., at the Indiana Government Center South, 10 Senate Avenue, Conference Center Room A, Indianapolis, Indiana. Here’s the Indiana Register Notice. Here is the hearing information. Here is the proposed amended language.
  2. Indiana Department of Workforce Development Hearing Concerning Multiple Indiana Administrative Code Amendments
    The Department of Workforce Development will hold public hearing January 2, 2019, at 10:00 a.m., at the Indiana Government Center South, 302 West Washington Street, Conference Center Room 14, Indianapolis, Indiana. The Department will present multiple proposed amendments. Access the hearing announcement including all the effected IAC code sections here. Here is the proposed amended language.

Construction Noise – Protect Your Hearing

Originally published 10/12/2016

According to a 2014 study conducted by Audicus (a hearing aid manufacturer), two out of three construction workers will experience some degree of hearing loss by the time they are 50. Most of it is due to the use of heavy equipment, jackhammers and heavy drills. This is alarming since the ability to hear well is essential to maintaining safety standards on the jobsite.

The World Health Organization says noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common, permanent, and preventable occupational injury in the world. NIHL may happen suddenly from an explosive type of blast, or gradually over time as a worker is continuously exposed to noise levels of 85 decibels (dBA) or higher without wearing proper hearing protection. Noise-induced hearing loss is often overlooked because most of the time it happens gradually.

OSHA has rules about how long you can be exposed to a noise level before you must wear hearing protection:

  • 90 dBA Unprotected up to 8 hours
  • 95 dBA Unprotected up to 4 hours
  • 105 dBA Unprotected up to 1 hour

Cranes, bulldozers, concrete joint cutters, jack hammers and pneumatic chip hammers are just a few of the machines workers use that range from 90 – 113 dBAs.

If you have to shout for someone three feet away to hear you, the jobsite is probably too noisy and you need to talk with your manager about how to protect your hearing. OSHA suggest three steps to noise control:

  • Reduce it – Use the quietest equipment available. Keep the equipment in proper working condition and well lubricated.
  • Move it – Locate noisy equipment away from workers.
  • Block it – Erect temporary barriers to block noise from reaching workers.

You can also protect workers by cutting the time they spend around loud noises. Rotate workers out of a high-noise area to minimize excessive noise exposure.

When engineering and administrative controls are not successful in reducing noise exposure, hearing protection devices must be used. According to OSHA, employers must offer appropriate hearing protection devices to employees who regularly work in areas where noise exposure is high. There are many different types of hearing protection. Each type is designed for certain noise conditions. Your employer will provide the necessary devices and provide proper training on how to use them. But remember, they must be worn properly and all the time in order to be effective.

Have your hearing checked each year and wear the hearing protection provided by your employer. Many workers are afraid they won’t hear warning signals or coworkers if they wear their hearing protection. But, some new protectors can let in voices and block other noises.

Download the recording form here.