Hear and Now: The Noise Safety Challenge

Posted on by Garrett Burnett, MS, MBA

The Burden of Noise

The idea of being hurt on the job tends to produce images of harrowing trauma, broken bones, and blood. Yet every year for more than a quarter of a century, hearing loss has quietly been among the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the United States. Approximately 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work. In addition to diminishing workers’ quality of life, occupational hearing loss carries a high economic price to society.

An Opportunity to Innovate

Occupational hearing loss is a problem that can be solved. OSHA and NIOSH are inviting businesses, inventors, and entrepreneurs to tackle the problem. Together we have announced Hear and Now: The Noise Safety Challenge. We are encouraging innovation and creative ideas that will make it possible to

  1. Eliminate a noise source
  2. Substitute a loud machine or tool for a quieter one (as typified in the NIOSH Buy Quiet initiative)
  3. Isolate a noise source
  4. Change work processes to minimize the noise a worker is exposed to
  5. Create more effective protective equipment

Check the Hear and Now web page for more information, or submit an idea through Challenge.gov.

Important Dates

  • September 30, 2016: Deadline to submit ideas through Challenges.gov.
  • October 7, 2016: Top 10 ideas selected and announced.
  • October 27, 2016: The Noise Safety Challenge Final will be held in Washington, D.C.

How Noise Affects Us

Exposure to loud noise damages the tiny little hairs in our inner ear that detect sound. More exposure will result in more damage. The result is permanent hearing loss that cannot be corrected through surgery nor with medicine. Short-term exposure to loud noise can also cause a temporary change in hearing (your ears may feel stuffed up) or a ringing in your ears (tinnitus). These short-term problems may go away within a few minutes or hours after leaving the noisy area. However, repeated exposures to loud noise can lead to permanent tinnitus, hearing loss, or both. Noise-induced hearing loss limits your ability to hear high frequency sounds and understand speech, which seriously impairs your ability to communicate with your loved ones, friends, and associates. Hearing aids may help, but they do not restore your hearing to normal and they add another expense to your household budget.

Noise is considered hazardous when it reaches 85 decibels or higher (approximately the sound level if a person has to raise his or her voice to speak with someone 3 feet away). The enforceable, job-related limit on noise exposure set by OSHA is 90 dBA for all workers for an 8 hour day. NIOSH further recommends that workplace noise should be controlled below a level equivalent to 85 dBA for eight hours to avoid permanent hearing damage.

Hearing loss is pervasive. It is also preventable. By taking part in this challenge, you have the opportunity improve the health and well-being of working men and women across the country. We are excited to hear from you.

Garrett Burnett, MS, MBA, is an advisor in NIOSH’s Research to Practice Office and an assistant coordinator for NIOSH’s Small Business Assistance Program.

Posted on by Garrett Burnett, MS, MBA

6 comments on “Hear and Now: The Noise Safety Challenge”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    People probably do not think of the veterinary field when it comes to noise safety, but we are exposed to a very loud work environment everyday. We have hospital wards and kennels full of barking, howling and whining dogs. Unfortunately for us, these are not noises when can shut out.

    The noise from gas leaf blowers is extremely hazardous to workers and those in the vicinity of the blowing. The low frequency of GLB noise penetrates walls and windows. The noise evokes the flight or fight response raising cortisol levels. The decibel level of most GLBs exceeds the World Health Organization, OSHA’s and NiOSH’s recommended levels.

    RE LAWNMOWER NOISE: i took a reel mower removed the roller , tied a cord to the roller rod pulled tight and tied the other end to the handle to raise the cutting height as hi as 9 inches. its 1/3 rd faster than a gas mower 2l3rd than a standard reel. it could be used in some lawn service applications. note there are ls companies that only use STANDARD reel-a few.

    go to facebook, type in tom d sherman, then hit noise reduction for details.

    The noise emanating from these worksites is also damaging to the surrounding community, as well as the environment. Maybe asking if every single machine is absolutely necessary, as well as the accompanying beeps (really, do we all need to hear that irritating beep EVERY time a large vehicle (or small loader) goes into reverse? Leaf blowers to blow dust off of bushes? Riding mowers for every single lawn, regardless of size? Developing a fancy set of earphones does nothing but give these worksites encouragement to excessively blast away with their loud and obnoxious machines. Here’s my novel idea, how about enacting common sense?

    I have had the opportunity to conduct classes on hearing conservation and hearing protection use on several occasions. Each time I have discussed and questioned the class about hearing protection use while not at work. For example while mowing at home or using other loud equipment. I can recall only one person ever stating that they use protection on a regular basis while not at work. This would seem to be a large contributing factor to potential hearing loss among todays employees.

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Page last reviewed: December 4, 2018
Page last updated: December 4, 2018