The standard was proposed on October 24, 1974 (Federal Register #39:37773) and issued on April 17, 1971. On March 8, 1983, it was expanded by adding provisions called the "Hearing Conservation Amendment."

Why this standard is important

Approximately 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at work each year. An estimated $242 million is spent annually on workers' compensation for hearing loss disability. Over the past 20 years, government agencies have consistently identified noise-induced hearing loss as one of the top concerns of workers.


Exposure to loud noise kills the nerve endings in the inner ear, causing permanent hearing loss that cannot be corrected by surgery or medicine. Noise-induced hearing loss limits one’s ability to hear high frequency sounds and understand speech and significantly impairs the ability to communicate.

Enforcement Statistics

October 2015 through September 2016 – totals for all industries

Citations: 597

Inspections: 320

Penalty: $1,439,939

Most Frequently Cited Provisions

The general industry employer must implement an effective hearing conservation program whenever worker noise exposure is equal to or greater than 85 dBA for an 8 hour exposure. The construction industry employer must implement such a program when exposures exceed 90 dBA for an 8 hour exposure.

Key elements of a hearing conservation program

  • Workplace noise sampling, including personal noise monitoring which identifies employees at risk from hazardous levels of noise
  • A worker audiometric testing program
  • If needed, hearing protection should be selected based upon individual fit and manufacturer's quality testing indicating the likely protection that it will provide

Most cited industries

  1. Manufacturing
  2. Wholesale trade
  3. Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services
  4. Public Administration
  5. Construction
  6. Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation
  7. Other Services (except Public Administration)
  8. Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting
  9. Accommodation and Food Services
  10. Retail Trade

What must employers do to protect employees?

A hierarchy of controls should be used to reduce the hazardous exposure to noise:

  • Engineering controls, such as modifying or replacing equipment.
  • Administration controls (i.e., limiting the amount of time a person spends at a noise source)
  • Hearing protection devices (HPDs) such as earmuffs and plugs

Occupational Noise Exposure Standard Compliance Directive

Directive Number: PER 04-00-004

Subject: Hearing Conservation Program

Date: 6/23/2008

Compliance Assistance 

Occupational exposure to noise: evaluation, prevention and control. This World Health Organization (WHO) document provides an in depth look at all aspects of noise.

Suter, Alice H. "Construction Noise: Exposure, Effects, and the Potential for Remediation; A Review and Analysis." American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal 63:768–789(2002). Reports that the highest percentages of overexposed workers occur in highway and street construction, carpentry, and concrete work.

Occupational Noise & Hearing Conservation – Training booklets. School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington. Includes links to a series of PDFs on hearing loss prevention in the construction industry.