Protect Employee Health with a Hearing Conservation Program
Employees who work at industrial settings are often exposed to noise levels that can cause Noise-Inducing Hearing Loss (NIHL), a conditionIndustrial Hygiene News called “one of the most pervasive occupational health hazards” today.
“Often people don’t realize they are [hard of hearing] until they can compare or track the hearing loss over time. Poor hearing is similar to poor vision in that you often don’t know how poor your vision is until you wear corrective lenses to remedy any vision problems you might have; the same principle applies to hearing loss,” said IHN.
While employees can’t always avoid excessive noise, there are steps both they and their employers can take to prevent hearing loss. Establishing a Hearing Conversation Program is a good place to start.
A Hearing Conversation Program has many benefits, said IHN. They include:
- Preventing NIHL
- Identifying hearing loss due to other causes
- Improving overall employee wellbeing by reducing the stress and fatigue associated with NIHL
- Reducing workers’ compensation costs;
- Demonstrating knowledge of and compliance with OSHA regulations.
In fact, OSHA mandates that employers administer a “continuing, effective hearing conservation program whenever employee noise exposures are at or above an eight-hour, time-weighted average (TWA) of 85 dBA or, equivalently, a dose of 50 percent.”
Steps Employees Can Take
The magazine EHS Today lists several ways employees can protect themselves from the adverse effects of workplace noise:
1. Take everyday noise protection care – Wear high-quality industrial earplugs or ear muffs when in noisy areas.
2. Avoid noisy environments – Work environments where machinery or large vehicles are present can produce intense noise levels. If such environments can’t be avoided, employees should protect their hearing with noise-canceling headphones.
3. Stop smoking and keep blood sugar levels in check – According to EHS Today, smoking doesn’t just impair heart and lung function, but can damage cells in the ear canal, as well. EHS Today also recommends checking blood sugar levels to address any imbalances, as that, too, can damage hearing.
4. Never stick anything inside the ear canal – When choosing a noise protection device, employees should look for those that do not protrude too far into the ear canal, as that could harm the eardrum.
5. Use noise protection like ear plugs when needed – EHS Today says that, employees who have hearing loss – or are at risk of it – should always use noise protection devices at work and elsewhere.
Steps Employers Can Take
Industrial Hygiene News recommends that employers take the following steps to help prevent hearing loss among workers:
· Use sound-level meters, which monitor the amount of noise in the workplace;
· Require employees to wear hearing protection devices (HPDs);
· Provide annual hearing examinations conducted by a licensed physician, otolaryngologist or audiologist;
· Block noise sources.
That is an area where we specialize. Our Industrial Hygiene Group can assist companies in identifying and measuring noise sources to determine if they exceed federal, state and local regulations. Our Industrial Hygienists utilize state-of-the-art personal noise dosimeters and sound level instruments to properly characterize both personal and area noise levels.
If Noise Abatement is needed, SRP’s Acoustic Engineering Division can evaluate the workplace to determine the most cost-effective methods, which could include things like sound insulation, sound absorption, vibration dampening, or vibration isolation.
Training is Key Component to Hearing Conservation
All employees working in high noise areas must receive training annually, says according to the OSHA Noise Standard. Employers not in compliance could incur costly citations.
We offer a two-hour training session on hearing conservation to help employers stay in compliance. This training meets the requirements of the OSHA Hearing Conservation Standard, 29 CFR 1910.95. It includes an overview of noise and its measurement, health hazards of noise, permissible noise levels, monitoring, audiometric testing program, hearing protection, record keeping, and sources of noise. We also discuss noise surveys and levels for the client’s facility, and provide training on use of HPDs.