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A recent article in the New York Times reviewed noise levels in nearly 40 businesses throughout the city, including health clubs, stores, restaurants and nightclubs. According to acoustical experts quoted in the story, one out of every three establishments have dangerous noise levels. This finding illustrates the prevalence of a health safety risk that is often ignored by safety officials.

Among establishments with the worst noise levels : an Upper West Side gym that averaged 100 decibels, a club in Greenwich Village that sustained 99 decibels, and the Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store on Fifth Avenue, where music levels hit 88 decibels. To put these numbers into perspective, a typical reading for the roar of an NYC subway is about 84 decibels.

The reporter cites several reasons why businesses may find sustained high noise levels desirable. Certain establishments implement high noise levels as a means to achieve a specific business goal. For example, studies link drinking activity and eating speed to loud music, thus increasing patron flow, and, in turn, increasing profits. Loud music can also drive out older patrons, thus reinforcing the business's desire to maintain a younger clientele base. Retail stores may also find that loud music causes customers to shop faster and make purchases more quickly, thus driving up receipts.

While restaurants and stores implement high noise levels to achieve a business goal, little concern is given to the damaging effects that high noise levels can have on employees and patrons. Although noise levels in retail stores, restaurants, and clubs sustain may cause hearing damage, these businesses rarely receive discipline from safety officials. The article notes that all of the workplace noise citations issued in 2011 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) were at factories or construction sites. This suggests that workplace hazards for retail and restaurant workers receive little attention from safety officials.

OSHA regulations require employers to provide hearing protection for workers exposed to 90 decibels for eight hours per day. Reviewing the Times findings, the president of the National Hearing Conservation Association characterized the sound measured in the report as "industrial level noise."

Sustained high noise levels can create an unhealthy work environment for employees. Not only is the practice irresponsible on the part of employers - it might also be a violation of workplace safety standards. A personal injury lawyer can help a worker examine his or her legal right to compensation when an employer's negligence or failure to comply with the law leads to hearing loss or impairment.

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