The U.S. Department of Labor has renewed a Regional Emphasis Program to focus inspections in three mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia on industries with high workplace noise levels, which can contribute to worker hearing loss.

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“Noise controls are the first line of prevention against permanent work-related hearing loss. By reducing noise levels even by a few decibels, employers can better protect employees, improve communication and stop excessive noise from distracting workers,” says OSHA Regional Administrator Michael Rivera in Philadelphia.

Possible hearing loss is a hazard for about 22 million U.S. workers, the National Institute Occupational Safety and Health estimates. In 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found about 12,000 workers suffered work-related hearing loss with 9,700 of them workers employed in the manufacturing industry.

OSHA’s Regional Program

To protect people employed in industries with high-risk noise issues, the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Philadelphia renewed the regional program first established in 2018. The renewed REP will focus OSHA’s efforts on manufacturing industry employers under federal jurisdiction in Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virgina, and the District of Columbia for a five-year term.

As part of its October renewal, the agency added three manufacturing industry sectors to the emphasis program after recent data showed higher risk of noise exposure in the following industries: sawmills and wood preservation, other wood manufacturing, and ornamental and architectural metal products.

“We renewed our Regional Emphasis Program for High Level Noise to continue to remind manufacturing industry employers in Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the District of Columbia that federal safety standards for noise protection must be followed to protect workers from unnecessary and potentially permanent harm,” Rivera says.

OSHA encourages small employers to use the agency’s On-Site Consultation Program, which provides no-cost assistance with safety strategies and compliance with federal safety and health standards. OSHA area offices in Pennsylvania in Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Wilkes Barre and in Wilmington, Delaware and Charleston, West Virginia, are conducting inspections and offering assistance.

By law, OSHA requires employers to implement a hearing conservation program when the average noise exposure over eigh working hours reaches or exceeds 85 decibels, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compares to the sound of city traffic or a gas-powered leaf blower. To prevent noise-induced hearing loss, OSHA provides employers with hearing conservation guidelines.

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