OSHA estimates that 750,000 construction workers are bombarded by harmful noise levels, and it's time they receive the same protection afforded general industry workers, OSHA chief Charles Jeffress told attendees at the National Conference on Preventing Hearing Loss in Construction in late March.

"We need a stronger standard. We need to look at enforcement of the current requirements. And we need to vigorously pursue cooperative approaches, creative strategies and outreach and education as well," he said.

OSHA is determined to develop a more detailed hearing conservation standard for construction, and plans to issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking this year, said Jeffress.

Highway and street construction workers, carpenters and those involved in concrete work are the most likely to be exposed, according to the agency. But boilermakers and iron workers face the highest exposure levels, primarily as a result of pneumatic tool use.

The highest exposures are most likely to occur during the structural stage of construction work, during concrete work and when workers are using heavy equipment.

Inspectors have trouble uncovering these problems. Last year, federal OSHA conducted more than 18,000 construction inspections, but inspectors cited the construction noise standard only 45 times and the hearing conservation requirements 19 times. "The construction work site is constantly changing. We may not inspect on a day when the noise levels exceed the standard. But that doesn't mean that noise isn't a problem at that site," said Jeffress.