GAO: Noise in Airplane Cabins Unlikely to Exceed OSHA Guidelines

Published November 29, 2017

Pilots and flight attendants working in airplane cabins are not likely to be exposed to noise that exceeds OSHA’s permissible exposure limit of 90 dBA as an eight-hour time-weighted average with a 5 dBA exchange rate, according to a report from the United States Government Accountability Office. The report was based on GAO’s review of 10 published studies that measured noise inside aircraft, recent OSHA enforcement activity, reports on aircraft noise maintained by the Federal Aviation Administration, and interviews with officials from OSHA, NIOSH, FAA, aviation trade associations, airlines, and aircraft manufacturers.

According to the report, none of the 10 studies reviewed by GAO presented data on aircraft noise that clearly exceeded OSHA’s standard. Two studies suggested that noise inside certain aircraft may exceed the NIOSH recommended exposure limit, which is an eight-hour TWA of 85 dBA with a 3 dBA exchange rate.

Labor groups expressed concerns to GAO about the noise exposures of pilots and flight attendants inside operational aircraft, particularly noise caused by old or malfunctioning equipment such as faulty door seals. However, GAO found few instances of noise-related complaints made by pilots and flight attendants to OSHA or FAA. For the purposes of its report, GAO excluded data on noise concerns from malfunctioning equipment because it did not represent normal operating conditions.

Visit GAO’s website to read the full report.

Update, December 5, 2017: The original version of this article stated an incorrect value for the OSHA PEL for occupational noise. The article has been corrected.