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Course 751 - Hearing Conservation Program Management

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Reducing Noise Related Hazards


Noise control strategies are the first line of defense against excessive noise exposure. The use of these controls should aim to reduce the hazardous exposure to the point where the risk to hearing is eliminated or minimized.

With the reduction of even a few decibels, the hazard to hearing is reduced, communication is improved, and noise-related annoyance is reduced. There are several ways to control and reduce worker exposure to noise in the workplace.

Hierarchy of Controls gsg image
Use the Hierarchy of Controls to reduce exposure to noise hazards.

The Hierarchy of Control Strategies

Occupational safety and health professionals use the "Hierarchy of Controls" to determine how to implement feasible and effective controls. This approach groups actions by their likely effectiveness in reducing or removing the noise hazard. The first three control strategies attempt to change the source of the hazard to reduce noise levels. The last two strategies attempt do not change the source of the noise, but rather, they try to reduce employee exposure to the noise.

Hazard Controls - These controls change the source of the noise hazard:

  1. Elimination - remove the source of the hazard.
  2. Substitution - replace the source of the hazard with a quieter source.
  3. Engineering - design/redesign equipment to isolate the source of the noise.

Exposure Controls - These controls manage employee exposure to the source of the noise hazard:

  1. Administration - information and training, scheduling, work practices, rules, etc.
  2. Personal protective equipment (PPE) - ear plugs and muffs, etc.

The use of these controls should reduce exposure to the point where the risk to hearing is eliminated or at least more manageable. Administrative and PPE are less reliable because they only work when employees use or otherwise comply with the strategies.

Elimination and Substitution

In most cases, the preferred approach is to eliminate the source of hazardous noise. When elimination is not possible, substitution of the loud equipment for quieter equipment may be the next best alternative to protect workers from hazardous noise.

modifying equipment to reduce the noise level.
Changing a hard bend to a soft bend in a steam line an reduce noise levels.


Engineering controls that reduce sound exposure levels are available and technologically feasible for most noise sources. Engineering controls involve modifying or replacing equipment, or making related physical changes at the noise source or along the transmission path to reduce the noise level at the worker's ear.

Simple engineering noise control solutions can reduce the noise hazard to the extent that audiometric testing, a hearing conservation program, and the use of hearing protectors, are not necessary. Examples of inexpensive, effective engineering controls that can be applied include:

  • Choosing low-noise tools and machinery (e.g., compressors, grinders, etc.).
  • Maintaining and lubricating machinery and equipment (e.g., oil bearings).
  • Placing a barrier between the noise source and employee (e.g., sound walls or curtains).
  • Enclosing or isolating the noise source.

Examples of Engineering Controls

modifying equipment to reduce the noise level.
Examples of engineering controls.

For hearing loss prevention purposes, engineering controls are defined as any modification or replacement of equipment, or related physical change at the noise source or along the transmission path (with the exception of hearing protectors) that reduces the noise level at the employee's ear.

Typical engineering controls involve:

  1. Reducing noise at the source.
  2. Interrupting the noise path.
  3. Reducing reverberation.
  4. Reducing structure-borne vibration.

Common examples of the implementation of such controls are:

  1. Installing a muffler.
  2. Erecting acoustical enclosures and barriers.
  3. Installing sound absorbing material.
  4. Installing vibration mounts and providing proper lubrication.
Noise Diagram
Developing engineering controls requires the identification of individual noise sources and assessment of their contributions to the overall noise levels

Selecting Engineering Controls

Assessing the applicability of engineering controls is a sophisticated process.

  • First, the noise problem must be thoroughly defined. This necessitates measuring the noise levels and developing complete information on employee noise exposure and the need for noise reduction.
  • Next, an approach to engineering control must be developed, requiring the identification of individual noise sources and assessment of their contributions to the overall noise levels.

When choosing the most applicable engineering controls, you will need to consider the cost of purchasing, operating, servicing, and maintaining the control. For this reason, engineering, safety, and industrial hygiene personnel, as well as employees who operate, service, and maintain equipment, must be involved in the noise-control plan.

Employees who work with the equipment on a daily basis will be able to provide valuable guidance on such important matters as the positioning of monitoring indicators and panels, lubrication and servicing points, control switches, and the proper location of access doors for operation and maintenance.

In situations where employees will be working on or around equipment fitted with engineering controls, it is important to explain to everyone involved why the controls should not be modified, removed, or otherwise defeated.

Administrative Controls

Administrative controls are changes in the workplace that reduce or eliminate the worker exposure to noise, examples include:

Sound versus distance.
Controlling noise exposure through distance can be effective and inexpensive.
  • Operating noisy machines during shifts when fewer people are exposed.
  • Limiting the amount of time a person spends at a noise source.
  • Providing quiet areas where workers can gain relief from hazardous noise sources (e.g., construct a soundproof room where workers' hearing can recover – depending upon their individual noise level and duration of exposure, and time spent in the quiet area).
  • Restricting worker presence to a suitable distance away from noisy equipment. Controlling noise exposure through distance is often an effective, yet simple and inexpensive administrative control. This control may be applicable when workers are present but are not actually working with a noise source or equipment. Increasing the distance between the noise source and the worker, reduces their exposure. In open space, for every doubling of the distance between the source of noise and the worker, the sound level of the noise is decreased by 6.02 dB. No matter what the scale of measurement, you will get a 6.02 dB sound level drop for every doubling of distance. You can see how this works by entering values in the table below.
    Calculate Decrease in Sound Level as Distance Increases
    Enter the initial distance from sound source:
    meters or feet, and...
    Enter the initial sound level at the initial distance:
    Enter another distance farther away from sound source
    meters or feet
    The sound level at this farther distance will be:
    The sound level decreases by:

Personal Protective Equipment

Noise Diagram
Types of Hearing Protective Devices (HPDs)

If other hazard and exposure control strategies to reduce noise levels can't be used or fail to reduce noise levels below OSHA's permissible exposure limits (PELs), the employer should make sure all exposed employees wear hearing protective devices. There are many different types of hearing protection.

Each type is designed for certain noise conditions. But remember - unless employees wear hearing protection properly and wear them all the time in high noise areas, the devices will not be effective. Proper use of hearing protection is one of the major challenges inherent in this exposure control strategy.

Convenience and comfort are important for frequent use of hearing protective devices. Earmuffs and foam earplugs in most cases offer the most noise reduction. However, preformed plugs or canal caps may be more convenient where construction work generates moderate daily average noise levels. There is no one device that is the best type for all situations. You can see the various types by enlarging the image to the right.

We'll discuss the OSHA requirements for hearing protective devices as part of the employer's Hearing Conservation Program (HCP) later in the course.

Management Responsibilities

Commit resources to your budget.
Managers may need to commit resources for in-house development of technology to control exposure problems specific to their companies and processes.

Management's primary responsibilities are to make sure that potentially controllable noise sources are identified, and that priorities for controls are set and accomplished. It is also management's responsibility to see that any changes of equipment or process are done only after evaluation of their impact on employee noise exposure.

Purchasing more quiet equipment can be very helpful, but sometimes the company must be willing to pay more for quieter equipment, but these investments should be cost-effective in the long run.

Implementing a buy quiet program can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes for workplace noise to no longer be hazardous.

Often a noise-control effort may seem to be overwhelming. As a result, the company may decide that noise control is not feasible and instead rely on hearing loss prevention measures to prevent hearing loss. However, if noise sources are taken on one at a time, dealing with the noisiest or easiest to quiet sources first, the problem can become manageable over time so that hearing loss prevention measures will be needed only until the noise is reduced to a safe level. Many times two hazards can be reduced or eliminated at once such as in the case of enclosing a noisy machine that generates high heat levels as well. The enclosure can trap the noise and the heat can be vented off to the outside.

Managers may need to commit resources for in-house development of technology to control exposure problems specific to their companies and processes. In some cases, they may need to budget for maintenance of exposure control devices to prevent their deterioration over time. Finally, they should make sure that lunch and break areas are as free from noise hazards as reasonably possible, and that other avenues of administrative controls have been explored.

Employee Responsibilities

Employees must support the hearing conservation program.
Employees should assist those who make the measurements by sharing their knowledge about the work environment.

Employees who operate or maintain and repair the equipment are often the ones who know most about the processes involved, they need to express their concerns and ideas to management, the program implementer, or the noise-control engineer so that the noise-control devices will be as practical and effective as possible. Employee assistance is especially critical to the success of engineering noise surveys where sound sources within a work process or a piece of equipment need to be evaluated, and only the employee knows the proper operation of the equipment. Employees also need to cooperate by maintaining their normal work routine when asked to wear dosimeters, so that the results will be representative of their actual exposures.

Sound levels often increase when equipment begins to wear or fails to receive appropriate maintenance. Also, changes in equipment placement may cause unintended effects on sound levels. When employees notice such changes, they need to inform the supervisory personnel or the program implementer that a change has occurred. A re-survey will be needed to evaluate the new sound levels and employee exposures whenever equipment or production changes occur.

Employees also have the responsibility of learning to operate their machines with the noise controls in place, of maintaining the controls properly, and of notifying the appropriate personnel when additional maintenance is needed.

Great work! That’s the end of module three, good luck on the quiz.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Which of the following describes an engineering control strategy?

2. In situations where employees will be working on or around equipment fitted with engineering controls, it is important to explain to everyone involved why the controls should not be modified, removed, or otherwise defeated?

3. What are administrative controls?

4. Which of the choices below is an example of an administrative control?

5. _________ and __________ controls represent the first two primary strategies in the Hierarchy of Controls.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.