How Loud Is Too Loud?


How Loud Is Too Loud?

With no visible trauma or scars, it’s easy for hearing loss
to go unnoticed, but the good news is, it’s preventable.

“You know, your hearing is your hearing,” observed David Strevig of Shelter Systems Limited. There’s no substitute for the sense, and no replacing it once it’s gone. Protecting your hearing is critical because long-term noise damage is permanent.

It’s no secret that component manufacturing can be a loud endeavor. Saws, presses and hand tools buzz, hum and clank out a discordant tune throughout the day. Do you know whether there’s a noise concern in your component manufacturing facility?

“It’s all spelled out in OSHA’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards,” Strevig explained. “If the noise level in your plant averages at or above 85 decibels for eight hours or more, then you need to have a hearing protection program.”

Listen up, though: it’s not quite as simple as it sounds.

Not All Plants are Created Equal

“If you’ve ever been on a tour of the U.S. Capitol, the Old Hall of the House chamber [now the National Statuary Hall] is interesting because you can hear anything whispered anywhere in the room. That’s how sound works: it reflects off of hard surfaces,” said Tom Christensen of PDJ Components. “It’s similar to playing pool, the way you bounce a cue ball off the edges to hit the ball you want.”

That reflective property of sound is the reason the layout of a plant can have a significant effect on noise levels. “In newer plants that are large, single buildings, everything is in one place,” Christensen explained. “When everything is in the same room, that sound travels throughout the building and bounces around.” It can even be a problem, he said, for those in areas well away from the noise.

“On the other hand, in older facilities there is often more separation between the areas because they were built up over time, adding and repurposing space as the company grew,” Christensen continued. “For instance, at our plant, our saws are separated from the main production facility, which decreases our overall sound level significantly.”

While saws are often at the heart of the noise, they aren’t always the real troublemakers. “We know we have a lot of equipment,” Strevig noted, “but our saws were only at 84 decibels. Our mono presses, however, were 104, 110, 120…and when we averaged it out we were over 85 decibels.”

Shelter Systems production floor layout

The reflective property of sound is the reason the layout of a plant can have a significant effect on noise levels. If you’re not sure whether there is a noise concern in your facility, it’s time to find out.

Can You Hear Me Now?

No matter what equipment or floor plan your plant is working with, if you’re not sure whether there is a noise concern in your facility, it’s time to find out. Even manufacturing facilities that are partially or mostly outdoors have potential issues.

Grab your smart phone and head over to Google Play or the App Store and search for a noise level monitoring app. “I downloaded one for my iPhone for free. It’s called dB Volume Meter and it works really well!” Strevig said. “I start picking up 53 decibels or more as soon as I walk out the door into the shop.”

Christensen likes one for his iPhone called Noise Meter (by Adeo, LLC), which costs only 99 cents. “This app allows you to save data and looks at all of the noise you’re exposed to over time,” Christensen explained, “not just the level of decibels at any one time.” That big-picture perspective is important, as Christensen made clear: “When it comes to providing a quality product to our customers, we need a full crew working together.”

That means design managers, like Christensen, can’t be silent—they rely on the production crew that turns designs into reality. Design management and production safety, Christensen said, “are not as different as one might think.” Those are two notes that need to ring in harmony.

Next Steps on Noise 

If the free tools give you any reason to think you have a noise exposure problem, your next step is to have a professional noise assessment service do on-site testing. Start with your insurance provider or your third-party inspector; it’s common for these types of businesses to provide this kind of service. They’ll bring different kinds of noise meters—some wearable, some not—to determine whether, and if so where, there are problems in your plant. 

About the Author: Molly E. Butz worked with CMs to develop the original SBCA Operation Safety Program and has over 12 years of experience helping CMs develop and maintain safety best practices.