Loud noise originating from machinery and equipment used in golf maintenance is potentially hazardous to every person exposed to it. Hearing damage could be permanent and even disabling. It also affects workplace safety because it interferes with communication and awareness of your surroundings. According to OSHA, each year 22 million employees are exposed to potentially damaging noise, and businesses pay an average of $1.5 million in penalties due to failure to protect employees from noise.

Protect your workplace and your employees by ensuring that your workplace adheres to OSHA’s standards.

How to know if your equipment is too loud?

 You can use a sound level meter to measure the sound levels on or around each piece of equipment. Position the microphone at the user’s ear level to determine the noise level experienced by employees. This may need to be measured in different areas, to determine noise levels for different tasks.

If you don’t have a sound level meter, use the 2-3 foot rule and noise indicator to assess the noise. Stand at 2-3 feet, or an arm’s length away from a coworker and then try to speak to them. If either of you have to raise your voice to communicate, the sound level is most likely above 85 dBA.

OSHA recommends that “noise levels be kept below 85 dBA as an 8-hour time-weighted average.” However, if employees are regularly exposed to 8 hours of 85 dBA noise levels, they could suffer hearing damage.

If noise is above 85 dBA, even 1 hour periods of exposure could cause hearing damage. Keep in mind that OSHA’s permissible exposure limit is 90 dBA.

Equipment that produces noise that is above OSHA’s permissible exposure limit (90 dBA) includes:

  • Forklifts 
  • Nail guns 
  • Concrete saws 
  • Jackhammers 
  • Chain saws 
  • Portable music players 

Employers must monitor noise exposure levels for employees who endure 8 hour periods or more of 85 dBA noise. This is pretty uncommon on a golf course, while an employee may run a chain saw for a few minutes at a time they would never operate them non-stop during a workday.

Results should be used to determine whether different PPE should be used, or if a hearing protection program needs to be created.

What to do about noise levels

Ear protection

Employers must provide hearing protection to all workers who are exposed to noise levels of 85dB or above for periods of 8 hours. 

There are several different types of ear protection that are designed for different situations. It’s important that you identify every source of loud noise at your workplace and determine which type of hearing protection is best suited for that environment. 

The PPE provided should include earplugs as well as ear muffs. Note that neither headphones or hearing aids can replace hearing protective devices. 

Keep in mind that simply providing PPE is not enough. It is the employer’s responsibility to train employees on how to use ear protection. This includes how to select the right PPE, put it on and take it off, as well as when to do so. Workers must also be made aware of the importance behind hearing conservation programs.  

It’s also very important to inspect and maintain ear protection devices to ensure their ability to protect the user. Any time that a change in working conditions alters noise levels or increases noise exposure, PPE should be reevaluated.  

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