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Ambient Noise

Last updated: November 10, 2018

What Does Ambient Noise Mean?

Ambient noise, sometimes called “background noise,” refers to all noise present in a given environment, with the exclusion of the primary sound that an individual is monitoring or directly producing as a result of his or her work activities.

Safeopedia Explains Ambient Noise

The strength of ambient noise levels within a given environment can have significant health and safety implications. In the United States, workers are protected from exposure to damaging levels of ambient noise by OSHA’s noise exposure limits. These include a maximum permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 85 decibels (dB) per eight-hour-time-weighted average (TWA) and a maximum exposure of 115 dB per 15-minute period.

Other occupational safety agencies, such as the Federal Railroad Administration, also prescribe noise exposure standards. The 85 db limit is the standard occupational limit and is based on guidance provided by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).

Ambient noise can negatively affect worker health by acting as a source of workplace stress. Studies have linked noise levels to increases in workplace accidents due to impeded employee concentration, increased fatigue, and other symptoms that interfere with workers’ ability to exercise effective safety behaviors and recognize potential hazards.

Workers can usually be protected from excessive noise exposure through the use of personal protective equipment such as ear muffs and ear plugs. However, this equipment can be problematic if it limits an employee’s ability to hear important information about potential safety hazards or emergency situations in the workplace. Ear muffs may incorporate built-in communication radios in order to overcome this limitation.

Despite existing standards, workers in many industries continue to be regularly exposed to unsafe levels of ambient noise. For instance, employees in bars frequently work in environments above the 85 dB limit prescribed under most regulatory and consensus standards and frequently receive no protection from hearing conservation programs.



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