OSHA 29 CFR 1910.95 (a) – It’s a Noise Exposure Standard, Not Just a Confusing Number

Strings of numbers and characters can often appear daunting.  For instance, if I wrote in binary code it would be a string of ones and zeros.  (01000101 01101110 01100111 01101001 01101110 01100101 01100101 01110010 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01000001 01010111 01000101 01010011 01001111 01001101 01000101.) That can look like gibberish and cause concern if unknown or it can make sense to programmers and people familiar with binary code.

Other alphanumeric strings may cause some concern for industry professionals.  Take, for instance, OSHA standards. The OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.95 (a) may be unfamiliar to some, and thus concerning. Many Environmental Health and Safety Engineers will recognize this code.  It is an OSHA standard that revolves around the amount of time an employee is permitted to be exposed to specific sound levels. These sound levels are all based on the weighted sound level of the noise the operators are exposed to. To better understand how the octave and frequency of the sound play into this, there is a chart provided below.

Equivalent A-Weighted Sound Level Chart – (1)

The weighted sound level is the level at which a Digital Sound Level Meter will read the current level of noise within an environment. This scale is then used to move further into the OSHA directive that we focus on helping companies meet to best provide safe environments for their employees to work in.

If you notice, the lowest weighted sound level is 90 dBA, this is also the lowest-rated noise level that OSHA speaks of in 1910.95(b)(2). It has been shown that noise levels over this level for extended periods will result in permanent hearing loss. The standard then goes on to discuss the duration an employee can be exposed to noise levels even with the use of personal protective equipment as well as even impulsive or impact noise.  The table of permissible time limits is shown below.

Permissible Noise Exposures (2)

As you can see from the table above provided by OSHA, any noise level that an operator is exposed to for eight hours cannot exceed 90 dBA. Noises within an industrial environment can also be variable throughout the day. For instance, the operator stands outside of a sheet metal press and the concussive strike on the press gives off a 90 dBA strike for every stroke of the press. This would not be a continuous noise level. Maybe the operator is operating a CNC machine that is cutting a nest of parts and uses a handheld blowgun to remove debris and coolant from the parts before taking them from their fixture. This blowgun is not used continuously and therefore would not be rated as such for the exposure time. A time study would be conducted on the average length of time the operator is utilizing this gun along with the level of noise it produces during use. OSHA then gives a calculation to use to appropriately combine the sound level while the gun is being used and when it is not in use. That equation is written out below.

Mixed Environment Exposure Fraction
C1/T1+C2/T2+… = ____
Total Exposure Fraction
Cn/Tn = ____

C1 = Duration of time for a specified noise level
T1 = Total time of exposure permitted at that level
Cn = Total time of exposure at a specified noise level
Tn = Total exposure time permitted at that level

Should the summation of the fractions for different exposures be greater than the Total Exposure fraction, the summation value should be used. As mentioned above, a time study on exposure to noise levels will be needed to obtain the information needed for this type of study. Once the study is done the process can proceed to the next level within the OSHA standard which is a hearing conservation program.

I would like to interject a small side-step at this point. Rather than rolling straight into the implementation of PPE which is proven to be the lowest reliable factor of protection by the CDC and NIOSH. If any of these noise levels being generated are due to the use of compressed air points of use, EXAIR can potentially lower the noise of these point of use applications. In the events, open blowoffs or “band-aid” fixes are in place to keep processes running, and Engineered Solutions can easily be implemented that will reduce the noise level produced by this operation. Whether it is on the handheld Safety Air Gun in the hands of a CNC operator, or if it is a part/scrap ejector that is blowing the sheet metal press out after every strike, we have products that have proven time over time using an Engineered Solution will save air, reduce noise levels, and still get the job done.

If you would like to discuss OSHA directives revolving around compressed air, share with us a recent citation you received from an inspector for this standard, or just discuss compressed air usage in general, contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer


1 – Equivalent A-Weighted Sound Level Chart – Retrieved from OSHA.Gov – https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=9735&p_table=standards

2 – Permissible Noise Exposures – Retrieved from OSHA.Gov – https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=9735&p_table=standards


Understanding Decibels & Why OSHA Pays Attention to Your Noise Exposure

In the simplest of metric terms, a decibel is one-tenth of a bel.  But, historically, bel was a unit created to honor Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone.  In the early days with telephone wires, they noticed that the signal strength would decay over a long distance.  In order to determine power requirements to connect people for communications, they determined that they could use the ratio of power levels.  As a start, it had to be based on a minimum amount of power required for a person to hear on the telephone.  They found that the signal power level to generate an angular frequency of 5000 radians per second would be that minimum value as determined by an average number of people.  They used this mark as a reference point in the ratio of power levels.  Because of the large variations in values, they simplified the equation on a base-10 log scale and dividing the bel unit by 10.  Thus, creating the measurement of decibel.

Today, this same method is used to measure sound.  Like frequency waves that travel through the telephone wires, pressure waves travel through the air as sound.  This sound pressure is what our ears can detect as loudness, and it has a pressure unit of Pascals (Pa).  As an example, a small sound pressure would be like a whisper while a large sound pressure would be like a jet engine.  This is very important to know as high sound pressures, or loudness, can permanently damage our ears.

With sound pressures, we can determine the Sound Pressure Level (SPL) which is measured in decibels (dB).  Similar to the equation for the telephone power signals above, the SPL also uses a ratio of sound pressures in a base-10 logarithmic scale.  For a minimum reference point, an average human can just start to hear a sound pressure at 0.00002 Pa.  So, the equation for measuring sound levels will use this minimum reference point as shown in Equation 1.

Equation 1:

L = 20 * Log10 (p/pref)


L – Sound Pressure Level, dB

p – Sound pressure, Pa

pref – reference sound pressure, 0.00002 Pa

Why is this important to know the decibels?  OSHA created a chart in 29CFR-1910.95(a) that shows the different noise levels with exposure times.  This chart was created to protect the operators from hearing loss in work environments.  If the noise level exceeds the limit, then the operators will have to wear Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), or suffer hearing damage.  EXAIR offers a Sound Level Meter, model 9104, to measure sound levels in decibels.  It comes calibrated to accurately measure the sound to determine if you have a safe work environment.

Sound Level Meter

There is a term that is used when it comes to loud noises, NIHL.  This stands for Noise Induced Hearing Loss.  Once hearing is damaged, it will not come back.  To keep your operators safe and reduce NIHL, EXAIR offers many different types of blow-off products that are designed to decrease noise to a safe level.  So, here’s to Alexander Graham Bell for creating the telephone which can be used to contact EXAIR if you have any questions.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb


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