Hearing Loss Prevention Program

The Hearing Loss Prevention Program encourages all UW organizations and departments to minimize the risk of noise-induced hearing loss to employees, researchers, students and visitors.

Essential parts of the program are to:

  • Identify and assess areas and activities where employees may be exposed to:
    • high noise levels that may exceed 85 decibels (dBA) averaged over an eight-hour period,
    • extreme noise levels of 115 dBA at any time (greater than one second)
    • extreme impact noise levels of 140 dBC (less than one second)
  • Reduce or control noise using engineering and administrative controls, where feasible.
  • Post signs at noisy areas and require hearing protectors.
  • Identify employees who need hearing protection.
  • Provide hearing protectors to employees and train them in their use.
  • Provide baseline and annual audiometric hearing exams to employees.

The Hearing Loss Prevention program is applicable to all University organizational units at all locations including the Seattle campus, UW Bothell, UW Tacoma, UW Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center, University owned property, University leased space, and temporary field locations under the control of University operations staff.

What you need to know

Responsibilities of department managers, supervisors and principal investigators:

  • Identify areas of excessive noise and affected employees. 
  • Coordinate sound level surveys and personnel monitoring for noise exposure, conducted by EH&S, to provide a quantitative assessment of noise hazards in your workplace.
  • If employees are exposed to noise above 90 dBA averaged over the work shift, implement engineering or administrative controls. See the L&I Hearing Loss Prevention (Noise) webpage and Reducing Hazards from Noise (OSHA).
  • Ensure individuals exposed to noise levels at or above 85 dBA averaged over an 8-hour work shift are enrolled in the Hearing Loss Prevention Program, receive training and medical surveillance.
  • Ensure employees are provided with baseline and annual audiometric exams at the UW Speech and Hearing Clinic, or equivalent, through EH&S.
  • Ensure staff has taken the Hearing Conservation training.
  • Provide at least two types of hearing protectors to employees if controls cannot be implemented, and for all employees exposed to noise levels at or over 85 dBA averaged over an 8-hour work shift, greater than 115 dBA any time and 140 dBC impact noise any time.
  • Ensure hearing protectors are worn properly.
  • Post caution signs where noise may exceed 85 dBA averaged over an 8-hour work shift.
  • Post danger signs where noise may exceed 115 dBA, even intermittently.
  • Ensure that reports of high noise are investigated.
  • Maintain records as required.

Responsibilities of faculty, staff and students:

  • Report elevated noise levels, noisy equipment and hearing protector problems to supervisor.
  • Take training on Hearing Conservation.
  • Choose the most comfortable, effective hearing protection devices that fit well. Remember that the BEST protector is one you'll wear. Earplugs are available in different sizes and shapes to fit different ear canals; earmuffs are easy to put on and take off for short-term loud noise exposure. A combination of earmuffs and earplugs may be needed.
  • Wear hearing protectors in posted noise areas.
  • Keep hearing protectors clean and replace when necessary.
  • Take baseline and annual audiogram tests.

Responsibilities of EH&S:

  • Oversee and maintain the UW Hearing Loss Prevention Program.
  • Monitor work sites for noise levels and inform employees and supervisors of results.
  • Recommend engineering and administrative controls wherever practical.
  • Assist employees and supervisors in selecting proper hearing protection devices, and provide training on use.
  • Assist with proper area signage.
  • Provide audiometric hearing tests.
  • Provide information and training on noise hazards and hearing conservation.
  • Maintain records as required.

What you can do to stay safe

Employees, researchers, students:

  • If you think you are exposed to loud noise at work, tell your supervisor or manager.
  • Take the EH&S online training class on Hearing Conservation
  • Wear your hearing protective devices
  • Have hearing tested (audiometric testing) for baseline and annually.
  • If you are already enrolled in the Hearing Loss Prevention Program, you may have your hearing tested at the UW Speech and Hearing Clinic or equivalent through EH&S

Services available

EH&S provides the following services:

  • Sound level surveys and personnel monitoring for noise exposure
  • Quantitative assessment of noise hazards
  • Training
  • Work with employees to select proper hearing protection devices
  • Work with departments on engineering and administrative controls and proper area signage
  • Work with departments on audiometric testing

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

No, noise cancelling headphones (and earbuds) cannot be used instead of earmuffs or other hearing protection because they do not provide adequate hearing protection for the following reasons:

  1. Noise cancelling headphones/earbuds may help reduce sound at lower frequencies (e.g., a conversation), but are not effective at reducing sounds at mid-level and high frequencies that can cause hearing loss.
  2. The amount of decibels of noise reduction that you might get while wearing noise cancelling headphones/earbuds is unknown because they don’t have a lab-confirmed Noise Reduction Rating. It’s unknown whether the headphones/earbuds could reduce the sound level to a safe level (below 85 decibels).
  3. Noise cancelling headphones aren’t designed to fit tightly around your ears (and earbuds aren’t designed to fit snugly in your ear canal), so noise can reach your ears. Earmuffs are designed to fit snugly around your ears and earplugs are designed to fit snugly inside your ear canal without gaps that could let noise reach your ears.



EH&S measures noise levels in work areas with a sound level meter to determine potential hazards, and recommends controls if needed. EH&S can also ask workers to wear noise dosimeters that determine noise exposures throughout their work shift.

For help, answer the questions in the NIOSH online quiz Do You Need a Hearing Test?  


Type of Hearing Protection

Effective Protection

Single hearing protection

(earplugs, earcaps or earmuffs)

7 dB less than the manufacturer assigned noise reduction rating (NRR); for example, earplugs with an NRR of 20 dB are considered to reduce employee exposures of 95 dBA TWA8 to 82 dBA TWA8

Dual hearing protection

(earplugs and earmuffs worn together)

2dB less than the higher NRR of the two protectors; for example, earplugs with an NRR of 20 dB and earmuffs with an NRR of 12 dB are considered to reduce employee exposures of 100 dBA TWA8 to 82 dBA TWA8


  • If the 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) exposure exceeds the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 90 dBA (decibels A-weighting), feasible engineering controls must be identified and provided to reduce the exposures to 90 dBA or less.

  • If the 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) exposure exceeds the Action Level (AL) of 85 dBA, hearing protective devices must be provided and used by employees. Additionally, employees must be included in a hearing loss prevention program that is administered and enforced by the UW.


Changing how or when workers do their jobs, such as scheduling work and rotating workers to reduce exposures

A chart, graph, or table resulting from an audiometric test showing an individual’s hearing threshold levels as a function of frequency.

testing conducted for measuring the sensitivity of a person's hearing threshold in decibels.

standard unit used to measure sound pressure level. The decibel scale is logarithmic; every five dBA is a doubling of the sound pressure level. “A” weighting is standard weighting of the audible frequencies designed to reflect the response of the human ear to noise.

“C” weighting is standard weighting of the audible frequencies commonly used for measuring peak sound pressure levels.

Using controls such as chemical fume hoods to work with chemicals, installing physical barriers to control a mechanical hazard, and/or physically changing a machine or work environment

unit of measure for noise frequency in cycles per second. (1 cycle/ second= 1Hz)

The maximum allowable noise exposure, established by WAC 296-817 as a legal limit. The current PEL for noise is 90 dBA averaged over an eight hour period.

A measure of the amount of noise reduction provided by a given hearing protection device.

A reduction in the ability of an individual to hear, either caused or contributed to by exposure in the work environment

A change in hearing threshold relative to the baseline audiogram of an average of 10 dBA or more at 2000, 3000 and 4000 Hz in either ear

"TWA8" refers to the time-weighted average of eight hours of permissible exposure. That sound level, which if constant over an 8-hour period, would result in the same noise dose measured in an environment where the noise level varies.