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Hearing Conservation
Contact: Mike Burke, mjb7@psu.edu814-865-6391

Penn State's Hearing Conservation Program was developed to monitor and control noise levels associated with activities or areas that may expose individuals to unsafe levels. Reduction of noise exposures is of paramount importance.

Services Offered

  • Training
  • Monitoring of Noise Levels and Exposures
  • Identification of Noise Control Measures
  • Hearing Protection Evaluation and Recommendations

Program Support Information

More Information

Basic Information on Noise Exposure and Hearing Protection

  • "Rule of Thumb" for determining the need for hearing protection
    A good "rule of thumb" for determining if your work area or activity requires hearing protection is as follows. If you have difficulty hearing or understanding a "normal" tone of voice at a distance of about three feet, noise levels are probably exceeding safe levels and you should be using hearing protection.
    Data from EHS noise monitoring shows that many activities and tools require the use of hearing protection. This includes, but is not limited to, lawn mowers, tractors, leaf blowers, weed trimmers, chain saws, concrete saws, concrete/hammer drills, snow blowers, power saws, working near running chillers, etc. Firearm uses ALWAYS requires hearing protection. Remember the above "rule of thumb".
    It is extremely important that these guidelines also be used for activities at home, not just work.

  • How much noise is too much? (Source: Family Safety and Health, Winter 1999-00)
    • 85 Decibels (dB) - the "Action Level" where hearing protection is required.
    • 90 dB - the OSHA, 8 hour average exposure limit.
    • 100 dB - exposures longer than 15 minutes are not recommended.
    • 110 dB - regular exposure of more than 1 minute risks permanent hearing loss.

  • How loud is it? (Source: Family Safety and Health, Winter 1999-00)
    • 10 dB - rustle of a leaf
    • 20 dB - a whisper
    • 60 dB - normal conversation
    • 80 dB - city traffic
    • 90 dB - lawn mower
    • 90-110 dB - Typical stereo headphone volume
    • 100 dB - woodworking tools
    • 140 dB - rock concerts, firecrackers, jet engine at takeoff
    • 140-156 dB - gunfire

  • Important Facts Regarding Hearing Protection
    • Hearing protection DOES NOT decrease speech recognition. This is a common misnomer and excuse for not wanting to use hearing protection.
    • Hearing protection DOES improve communication. This is because hearing protection filters or attenuates background noise. Skeptical? Try closing off your ears with your fingers and listening to someone talk in background noise. The person's voice will become clearer and the background noise will decrease or disappear.
    • Hearing protection use has been proven to reduce general fatigue in "noisy" areas. This is due to the stress that constant noise exposure causes.
    • Hearing protection decreases ringing in the ears associated with noise exposure.
    • For assessing whether the hearing protection you have chosen is adequate, subtract 50% from the NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) shown on the packaging. This is because the NRR is developed in a laboratory under "ideal" conditions which often are not duplicated in "real world" conditions.
    • Hearing protection does not work if it is not worn properly (e.g. ear plugs only half inserted, ear muffs worn over jacket hoods, etc.). Follow the manufacturer's directions completely when wearing hearing protection.
    • Walk-mans or personal stereo units are NOT considered hearing protection. These actually increase your exposure well above background noise because you have to turn the volume louder to hear the music "clearly".

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