learn more about noise control for your hearing conservation program


Can we control the noise?

  • learn more about the WSH Hierarchy of Control

    The concept of a Hierarchy of Controls is well-established in occupational health and safety. Simply put, it is more effective to eliminate or decrease the severity of the hazard than to change the way people work or require workers to wear protective equipment.

    For example, an employer can adopt a Buy Quiet approach, specifying less noisy equipment and processes during the design phase. However, when eliminating the noise is not feasible, there are approaches to lowering the risk of noise-induced hearing loss, either through engineering a solution or applying an administrative policy to limit noise exposure.

    Engineering controls involve modifying the equipment, process, or environment in some way so that less sound energy is created or is transmitted to the workers. Often, the most effective approach is to identify and treat the source of the noise based on the results of a noise control survey.

    Administrative controls are policies designed to lower the noise exposure by limiting the time workers spend in high noise areas. These policies are often necessary when engineering controls are not feasible or cost effective.

Key Takeaways

  • Controlling noise:

    • Is considered the most effective method to reduce the noise hazard.
    • Can be done by specifying quiet equipment during process design, using engineering controls or implementing administrative controls.
    • May allow a company to reduce the number of employees in a hearing conservation program.
    • Absorption
    • A-weighting
    • Buy Quiet
    • Damping
    • Isolation
    • Noise Survey
    • Reflection
    • Time-weighted average

Benefits of Controlling Noise

  • prevent hearing loss by reducing excessive noise levels in equipment and machinery

    Employers who control noise through various methods may benefit in numerous ways:

    1. Reducing the risk of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and associated health effects among employees
    2. Eliminating or reducing the cost and time spent on implementing a Hearing Conservation Program (HCP) when employee noise exposure is reduced below the Action Level (AL) of 85 dBA as a result of noise control efforts.
    3. Decreasing overall reliance on hearing protection devices (HPDs)
    4. Enabling more options for suitable hearing protection devices.
    5. Helping improve face-to-face and radio communication because there is less background noise to interfere with speech.
    6. Easier to comply with government regulations on occupational noise exposure
    7. Showing commitment to employees that the employer is serious about reducing noise hazards

Getting Started With Noise Control

Although you may choose to consult with a noise control engineer to assess your situation and design solutions, it is extremely beneficial to involve the employees who work in noisy areas to find ways to lower the noise. A consultant can bring tremendous technical knowledge but the people who spend each day immersed in the noise can provide some of the most practical and straightforward solutions because they know the processes and equipment so well.

  • It might seem obvious, but the process of controlling hazardous noise in the workplace cannot begin until the employer has completed a noise hazard assessment and analysed the results. By monitoring noise in different areas of the facility and by conducting noise surveys on different processes, tasks and tools, the employer will collect the data necessary to identify groups of workers and areas where noise controls are most needed and prioritise where and how to spend noise control dollars to get the greatest benefit. Lastly, a more detailed noise control survey can be done to identify the noise sources and select the most appropriate noise control solution.

  • Making equipment and processes less noisy during design and fabrication is more effective and economically efficient than implementing noise controls afterward. Buy Quiet is a type of Prevention through Design approach which places a priority on eliminating or controlling the hazard by specifying machinery or tools that create less noise. This is accomplished when a new production processes is being designed or when older equipment or processes are replaced.

  • Prioritising the potential noise control projects is an important step towards achieving the most economic outcome. While it may seem logical to focus attention on the highest noise source in your facility, it is possible that you can achieve a more significant decrease in employee noise exposures by first controlling noise in the areas closest to where a large percentage of your employees are working. Some noise controls are fairly inexpensive and, when successful, can gain tremendous support from employees and management.

  • It is often necessary to implement a multi-pronged approach involving both engineering and administrative controls.

    • Engineering controls may include modifications to the noise source as well as the sound path. A noise control engineer can help you evaluate the effectiveness of different controls for your unique noise situation, including isolators, enclosures, dampers, absorbers, and barriers.;
    • Administrative controls may be less complicated from a technical point of view but can be disruptive if extensive changes to work schedules and workflow are involved. It is not necessarily difficult to establish time limits for employees working in certain areas or doing specific tasks, but enforcement of such limits may create additional complexity in your HCP.
  • Employers are required to control noise when “feasible” according to OSHA, MSHA and other regulatory bodies, but there has been much debate about what that word “feasible” really means. Demonstrating that a particular noise control solution is technically feasible may be fairly straightforward, but documenting the economic feasibility can be a challenge.

    Some of the questions to consider are:

    • Is the decrease in the sound level that can be achieved with a certain noise control significant enough to justify the cost relative to the cost of a hearing conservation program?
    • What are the upfront costs of installation and the long-term costs of maintaining the control(s)?
    • What effect will the controls have on the processes in our facility and the workflow? How will that impact efficiency?
  • Perform noise measurements once controls are in place and periodically afterwards to verify and document the results. Establish a schedule to monitor the effectiveness of noise control materials and mechanisms as they age and, potentially, deteriorate over time due to wear and tear. Whenever changes are made to processes and production, review what the effects may be in terms of existing noise controls.


  • Noise Control Requirements
    What is Required?

    ln the US, OSHA has established a Permissible Exposure limit (PEL) of 90 dBA. Employers must limit the 8-hour TWA noise exposure of employees to 90 dBA or below using "feasible administrative or engineering controls." However, since 1983, OSHA enforcement policy has allowed employers to use HPDs as a substitute for implementing noise controls for TWA noise exposures below 100 dBA. To learn more, refer to the OSHA Field Operations Manual Chapter 4 pages 27-28 (PDF, 2.60 MB).

    Unlike OSHA, the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MHSA) requires mine operators to implement feasible noise controls without consideration of the noise reduction provided by hearing protectors. This has resulted in much greater emphasis on noise control in mines with less reliance on hearing protection. To learn more, visit MSHA.

  • Noise Control Engineer
    Using Hearing Protection in Place of Controls

    If noise controls fail to reduce sound levels to the OSHA PEL or below, employers must provide hearing protection devices (HPDs) and ensure they are used. However, when HPDs are used as a substitute for noise controls, OSHA requires that employer adjust the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of the HPOs for compliance purposes*.

    For more detail read our Protect page.

    *OSHA, NIOSH and the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) have endorsed hearing protector fit testing as a best practice. 3M strongly recommends fit testing of hearing protectors as an indicator of the noise reduction obtained by individual employees.

principles of noise control can be carried out at the source, along the path, and at the receiver

Basics of Noise Control

In the most basic sense, limiting the noise exposure of employees can be accomplished by applying controls to the noise Source, the noise Path, or the Receiver.

  • Source
    A noise source is a vibrating object—a machine or tool creating vibration during operation that radiates into the work area as noise.

    Noise travels through the air, of course, but also through solid materials such as floors, walls and windows.

    In hearing conservation, the receiver is the worker.

  • Examples of Administrative Noise Controls

    Administrative controls are policies designed to lower noise exposure by limiting the time workers spend in high noise areas. These policies are often necessary when engineering controls are not feasible or cost-effective.

    For example, an employer can adopt a Buy Quiet approach, specifying less noisy equipment and processes during the design phase. However, when eliminating the noise is not feasible, there are approaches to lowering the risk of noise-induced hearing loss, either through engineering a solution or applying an administrative policy to limit noise exposure.


    • Operate noisy equipment and processes when fewer employees are present—for example at night
    • Turn off noise sources in-between tasks or when employees


    • Restrict access to noisy areas


    • Rotate employees in and out of noise during the day
    • Set time limits for certain tasks or use of noisy tools
  • Examples of Engineering Noise Controls

    Engineering controls involve modifying the equipment, process, or environment in some way so that less sound energy is created or is transmitted to the workers. Often, the most effective approach is to identify and treat the source of the noise based on the results of a noise control survey.


    • Maintain tools and equipment routinely (such as lubricating gears, replacing gaskets, etc)
    • Reduce vibration where possible
    • Modify the process or method of production such as changing:
      • Speed
      • Pressure
      • Mechanical controls
      • Direction of airflow​


    • Isolate the noise source using springs or pads to prevent noise from travelling through floors or walls
    • Enclose the noise source
    • Place a barrier between the noise source and the employee
    • Isolate the employee from the source in a room or booth
    • Install sound-absorbing materials to minimise direct sound transmission or reflection


    • Use video monitors or remote controls to allow employees to operate equipment at a location farther from noise sources
    • Retrain employees to use tools or complete tasks in ways that create less noise
    • Require employees to wear hearing protection

Types of Engineering Controls

Noise control images used courtesy of Associates in Acoustics, Inc.

  • learn more about vibration control or isolation methods to reduce noise
    • Springs, foam or other damping materials are used to reduce the transmission of sound from noise sources to floors, walls or connected equipment.
    • For example, springs on each support of a floor-mounted motor to lessen the sound energy that is passed into the floor and the rest of the building.
  • the best approach to control noise is to eliminate or reduce the hazard at its source like damping of vibrating surfaces
    • Placing materials such as foam, resin or tape on an object or modifying it so that it vibrates less.
    • For example, coating the outside of a metal bin with resin to reduce the vibration made when parts are dropped into the bin.
  • achieve a significant reduction of noise by placing a barrier wall between the source and the receiver, also known as, reflection
    • Barriers or partitions are placed in the sound path to deflect sound away from employees.
    • For example, placing a wall or enclosure around a compressor so employees can work nearby with less direct noise exposure.
  • substitute noisy machinery or equipment with ones designed for operation at lower noise levels
    • Replacing or modifying components of a noisy system to make less noise.
    • For example, switching to a quieter air nozzle or replacing steel wheels on a cart with low-noise rubber wheels.
  • types of engineering controls to reduce noise levels include modification
    • Changing a process to make it less noisy.
    • For example, decreasing the distance that parts much drop into a bin so less noise is created.
  • help to minimise noise exposure for workers by considering engineering and administrative controls
    • Sound-absorbing materials placed in an area to reduce the reflection and buildup of sound.
    • For example, acoustical tiles place on a hard surface to lower sound reflection in a room.

Beyond the Basics

The benefits of effective noise control (described above) can be expanded by implementing a Buy Quiet policy.

  • learn more about the implementation of a Buy Quiet Policy for noise control

    Why Buy Quiet? from NIOSH*
    Noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented if the TWA exposure of employees is reduced to the NIOSH recommended exposure level (REL) of 85 dBA or below. Buy Quiet can help employers stay below the REL. Specifying less noisy tools and processes during the design phase may help employers avoid costly noise controls once long-term purchases and commitments have been made.

    Benefits of Buy Quiet

    • Reducing the risk of hearing loss
    • Reducing the long-term costs of audiometric testing, personal protective equipment, and workers compensation. This savings is applicable across a wide variety of machinery and equipment.
    • Helping companies comply with OSHA and other noise regulation requirements.
    • Reducing the impact of noise on the community.

    * https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/buyquiet/

    Estimating the cost savings
    Look for tools you can use to evaluate the cost effectiveness of a Buy Quiet approach.

    Examples of Successful Control Strategies
    The Safe-In-Sound awards program recognises employers and other organisations who have achieved success implementing hearing loss prevention programs and applied innovative approaches to controlling employee noise exposure. Learn more online at www.safeinsound.us.

Have You Considered?

    • Having a “noise control contest” by engaging your maintenance workers to come up with solutions to noise problems identified by your workforce?
    • Controlling the leaks in systems that use compressed air to save on energy costs as well as reducing noise exposure?
    • How much does your hearing conservation program cost annually per worker? How much can you save by reducing the noise exposure below the action level?
    • Starting a “buy quiet” policy so that no additional noise sources are introduced into your production areas?
    • Setting a goal to do one or more noise control projects per year?
    • Measuring the noise after a noise control is implemented to track the success of the project?
    • Creating a log of all the noise control projects?
    • Updating employee noise exposure records to reflect the new results and when they took effect?
    • Making a strategic plan to lower noise exposures over time, tackling the highest priorities first?
  • IMPORTANT NOTE: This information is based on selected current national requirements. Other country or local requirements may be different. Always consult User Instructions and follow local laws and regulations. This website contains an overview of general information and should not be relied upon to make specific decisions. Reading this information does not certify proficiency in safety and health. Information is current as of the date of publication, and requirements can change in the future. This information should not be relied upon in isolation, as the content is often accompanied by additional and/or clarifying information. All applicable laws and regulations must be followed.