Employ Administrative Controls

Key Concepts
  • Work procedures can be adapted to minimize the number of workers exposed to noise and the duration of their exposure.
  • Administrative controls require consistent enforcement.
  • Increasing the distance between workers and any noise source can reduce their exposure.
  • Reducing the time workers are exposed to loud noise lowers their overall exposure.
  • Training workers to be aware of noise hazards, providing them with strategies to limit exposure, and encouraging them to avoid activities which would increase their exposure, such as playing music loudly under their hearing protection, can help.
  • Do not use an administrative control if it will increase another employee’s noise exposure or the number of exposed workers.

If you cannot eliminate or reduce noise to a safe level, simple changes in scheduling and operations can significantly decrease the total amount of noise exposure for each worker. These types of changes are known as administrative controls.

You can use administrative controls alone or in combination with other methods, such as engineering controls and hearing protection devices. In some cases, using controls can prevent the need for a hearing loss prevention program.

As with all controls, you must ensure noise exposures are effectively reduced through dosimetry or a sound level meter assessment. When changing work practices, the following questions will help you reduce noise exposure.

  • How close are workers to the noise source?
  • Can you reduce the duration of exposure?
  • Are employee behaviors increasing noise exposure?
  • Decibels (dB) are a scale for measuring noise
  • A-weighted noise levels or dBA is used to predict hearing risk
  • Noise above 85 dBA is considered hazardous

Increase Distance between Workers and the Noise Source

If possible, increase the distance between workers and noise sources.

Doubling the distance from the noise source can decrease noise levels by as much as 6 dB, as long as you aren’t moving closer to a secondary noise source. Over time, even small changes in noise level can have large impacts on total exposure.

Other ways to use distance to reduce worker noise exposure include:

  • Encourage workers to increase distances from noisy processes that do not require constant monitoring.
  • Relocate unrelated tasks to quieter areas.
  • Increase the distance between individual noise sources to lower the combined noise level.
  • Use tethered or remote-control panels that allow you to control the noisy process at a greater distance.
Increasing distance between workers and the noise source directly reduces workers’ noise exposure.

Increasing distance between workers and the noise source can directly reduce workers’ noise exposure.

Reduce Duration of Worker Exposures

Changes in shift length or tasks involving noise can decrease overall exposure:

  • Minimize the duration of noise exposure:
    • Give workers shifts doing quieter tasks.
    • Provide quiet areas for employee lunches and breaks.
    • Schedule noise generating tasks to minimize overlap with quiet tasks in the same area.
  • Minimize the number of workers exposed to noise:
    • Reduce the number of workers needed to perform a noisy task.
    • Move workers not involved with a noisy process out of the area.
Providing a quiet area for breaks away from noisy areas reduces total noise exposure

Providing a quiet area for breaks away from the noise source is a simple administrative control to prevent occupational hearing loss.

Look for Other Ways to Avoid Occupational Hearing Loss

  • Discourage listening to music at a high volume, especially if listening over a noisy work environment.
  • Use alternate forms of communication for communication-intense jobs such as radio headsets with hearing protection.
  • Don’t prop open doors that lead to noisy machinery (unless required by other safety concerns).
  • Keep doors and windows closed if environmental noise (e.g., traffic, neighboring operations) is significantly adding to noise exposures
  • Be aware that the presence of certain chemicals, called ototoxicants, can worsen effects of noise.
    • Substances including certain pesticides, solvents, and pharmaceuticals that contain ototoxicants can negatively affect how the ear functions, causing hearing loss, and affect balance. See the OSHA/NIOSH safety and health information bulletin for more information on ototoxicants.