John R. Franks, Ph. D., Division of Biomedical and Behavioral Science, NIOSH
Alton Burks, Ph. D., Pittsburgh Research Center, NIOSH
Engineering Noise Controls and Personal
When Federal regulations to protect workers' hearing were enacted, the
legislators intended for engineering /administrative control to be used to reduce the
noise exposures of workers to safe levels. It was clear that engineering/administration
controls were the preferred method and that personal protective equipment (PPE) was to be
used only as an interim measure if neither engineering nor administrative controls were
The objective of engineering control technology is to provide pragmatic
recommendations on the prevention and control of worker exposure to hazardous conditions.
The purpose of this paper is to discuss the future direction of research on this topic.
First, this paper reviews the current status of engineering control technology and states
a vision for the future application of engineering control technology.
One of the issues addressed at the Workplace Controls Workshop,
co-sponsored on March 10-12, 1998 by NIOSH, AIHA, and ASSE, was the unfinished business of
noise control. The breakout session on noise issues was divided into three primary areas,
with invited speakers and discussion on the State of the Art and Unfinished Business;
Emerging Technologies; and Protective Equipment. This document begins with the summary
presentation provided at the closing Plenary Session on Thursday, March 12; presentation
summaries and pursuant discussion notes from each of the breakout sessions follows.
The consensus of the group was that it was necessary to broaden the discussion on noise to
include hearing and hearing health issues. Further, the group concluded that it was
impossible to limit discussions of hearing health issues to the workplace without
consideration of non-occupational exposures.
Regarding engineering controls, it was the consensus of the group that, in general,
proven technology exists and is commercially available to control worker exposure to
hazardous noise. Participants focused on the underlying reasons for lack of widespread
implementation, the barriers to effective hearing loss prevention, and the research agenda
necessary to promote the general application of engineering control and protective