Don’t Bring the Noise

Excessive noise is a common workplace hazards present in a wide variety of industries. Approximately 30 million people in the United States are exposed to hazardous workplace noise each year, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Employees in construction, steel, oil and gas, and the airline industry routinely exposed to high noise levels and may require personal protection equipment or engineering modifications to protect them from hearing loss.

Hearing conservation is an important part of employee training and workplace safety standards. Whether temporary or permanent, hearing loss is a real risk in a variety of occupations. However, with proper equipment, good engineering, and safety practices, hearing loss can be prevented.

Some common activities and their typical noise levels are:

Loudness is measured in decibles (dB)

Whisper                       10 dB

Street sound                70 dB

Sander                            85 dB

Sporting Events          100 dB

Mowing the Lawn        101 dB

Motorcycle Riding      112 dB

Concerts                          125 dB

Shooting Range            130 dB


Proper Monitoring

The initiation of proper hearing conservation begins with a clear understanding of the noise present in the workplace by completing an evaluation of the noises level present and the duration each employee is exposed to these noises.  For workers that are exposed to potentially harmfulr noise levels, each employee should have a hearing test when hired and at least one additional test every year. Having that initial test will help employers measure changes while the employee has been on the job.  By measuring an employee’s hearing, employers can monitor whether any hearing loss has occurred over a period of time with increased exposure to workplace noise.  Records of these test and the results are to be maintained on file for seven years.

A simple way to determine if a potential noise hazard exist is to monitor how employees interact with each other to see if noise hazards are present in the workplace. There are a number of ways to pinpoint whether or not excessive noise affects employees. The following are ways to help employers and employees identify whether or not the workplace has noise hazards:

•      Employees must raise their voices or yell when they communicate with each other.

•      Employees have ringing in their ears during or after the workday.

•      Employees must be in close proximity of each other in order to hear and understand what someone says.

•      Over a period of time, general conversations are harder to hear even outside of the workplace—especially in situations with competing noises.

Proper Engineering

The first line of defense in protecting employees from harmful noise levels is through sound engineering principles.  In many instances the exposure to employees of excessive noise levels can be reduced or eliminated by re-engineering the equipment or the addition of noise reducing materials to isolate the noise from the worker.  Some some areas where the noise levels are high, reduction the amount of time an employee is in the area may be sufficient to control the hazard. When the noise levels are above 105 decibles hearing protection is always required.

Proper Personal Protective Equipment

In any workplace, proper personal protective equipment is required for injury prevention. Anything from bright-colored vests, gloves and closed-toed boots may be a required part of a uniform in some occupations. In a workplace where excessive noise is a hazard, hearing protection equipment should be included in the list of required safety equipment.

This equipment should include noise-blocking options—those that cover the ear and are inserted in the ear, such as earplugs or noise-canceling headsets. Any equipment of this nature should be provided to the employee at no cost. If possible, offer a variety of noise safety equipment so employees can find what works best for them and still allows them to do their job correctly and comfortably.  Work zones requiring hearing protection should be clearly identified and the use of the person protection equipment made mandatory for “everyone”.  If workers see that the management team use the protection them they will be more likely to use it themselves.

It’s important for employers to routinely check the equipment to ensure it is in proper working form.

Proper Training

A hearing conservation program should be included in the safety standards of any company where excessive noise is a risk factor. Areas of high noise should be clearly marked, and employees should be trained to apply their hearing protection equipment when entering those areas.

Communication, especially in industries with moving parts, is essential to workplace safety. Even if employees are required to wear noise-canceling equipment, they still need to be prepared to react to other employees’ commands or requests. During training it may be necessary to identify other ways to communicate in areas where noise is an issue. This communication may be done through hand signals or flashing lights. If alternative methods of communication have been identified, employees won’t feel inhibited by having their hearing blocked by safety equipment.

Employers may also be able to decrease exposure by limiting the amount of time spent in an area with excessive noise.

Hearing loss cannot be reversed, which is why having specific safety practices in place to prevent hearing loss in employees is imperative. The more proactive employers can be with workplace safety, the greater the benefits are to employees.

One Response to Don’t Bring the Noise

  1. Pingback: Don't Bring the Noise « Texas Mutual Insurance Company blog | Injury Prevention

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