We frequently get calls to come and assess noise levels in industrial facilities. The concern is usually whether the employee’s exposure to noise is meeting OSHA requirements. So what are standard OSHA requirements for employee noise exposure?

There are three main points to the OSHA noise exposure requirements. The exposure limit is based on a time-weighted average (TWA) of 90 dBA over an 8-hour period. That means a person can be exposed to different noise levels over the 8-hour work shift, but the average noise level is the determining factor. The second part to the OSHA requirement is that only noise levels above 80 dBA are included in the TWA. So if a person works in one area with noise levels at 78 dBA and then moves into a louder production area with noise levels at 90 dBA, only the time spent in the louder production area are included in the time-weighted average. The last piece of the requirement is that hearing protectors must be available to all workers exposed to 8-hour TWA noise levels of 85 dBA or above.

The key to all of this is proper noise monitoring. Employees who work in noisy environments can get accustomed to the noise level and may not be aware of increases in level that could cause permanent damage. If the noise levels in a facility are periodically monitored, any changes in noise level can be addressed to maintain OSHA compliance. Many times the noise can be addressed at the source, minimizing the need for hearing protection.

At Acoustics By Design, we perform dosimetry tests and employee noise exposure monitoring for companies that want to ensure they meet the OSHA requirements. As professional engineers, we can develop mitigation options that go beyond the quick fix of earplugs.

Melinda Miller

Melinda Miller brings her passion for all things sound and 20 years of experience to her role as Principal Engineer of ABD Engineering & Design. Her expertise includes diagnosing and preventing noise problems, designing acoustically optimized environments, and using evidence-based design practices. Melinda has consulted on projects involving architectural acoustics, noise isolation, mechanical noise control, and occupational noise exposure. Her experience includes higher education, K-12 schools, performance and worship spaces, healthcare facilities, industrial facilities, hotel and multi-family residential buildings. A Professional Acoustical Engineer, licensed by the State of Oregon, Melinda earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Idaho, and Master’s from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She has continued her education and training, earning her INCE Board Certification (INCE Bd. Cert.), Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC), and LEED AP BD+ C. As an Assistant Professor of Acoustics for Columbia College, she taught undergraduate junior and senior level classes in HVAC design, vibrations, acoustical testing, building noise control, and musical acoustics. Melinda has chaired sessions on various topics at Noise-con and Inter-noise since 2013, and has served INCE as the Co-Chair of Building Acoustics Technical Activities committee, on the Certification Board, and the Board of Directors (2021-2024). Likewise, she has presented technical papers and education sessions for the Acoustical Society of America, the American Institute of Architects, and the Chicago Chapter of the Audio Engineering Society.

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