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 sheet here.

Members can download the audio version of this toolbox talk 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.

OSHA kicks off Hear and Now – Noise Safety Challenge

OSHA August 15 Newsletter

Every year 22 million workers are at risk of losing their hearing from workplace noise hazards. Hearing loss disability costs businesses an estimated $242 million annually in workers’ compensation. This is why OSHA is partnering with other agencies to offer a challenge to inventors and entrepreneurs: Help develop a technological solution to workplace noise exposure and related hearing loss.

OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, in partnership with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, have launched the “Hear and Now – Noise Safety Challenge.”

The competition is open to the general public. Idea submissions are due by Sept. 30. Ten finalists will be invited to Washington, D.C., to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges that will include investors and representatives of NIOSH and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Here’s the news release for details.