Approximately 30 million American employees are exposed to excessive workplace noise, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Workers run the risk of hearing loss if they are exposed to an average of more than 85 decibels (dB) over an 8-hour workday. OSHA takes excessive noise seriously, and its regulation CFR 1910.95 requires employers in noisy workplaces to:
- Reorganize equipment, facilities, and/or tasks to reduce noise levels.
- Monitor individual and work area noise levels and report high levels to employees.
- Test employee hearing, with annual follow-ups.
- Provide hearing protection where needed.
- Provide training in the selection, proper fit, and use of hearing protection
Workers should be aware that there are many other sources of loud noise that can cause permanent hearing loss as well. iPods and cell phones are often used at dangerously high volumes and of course, rock concerts are off the charts in terms of loud noise. Holding annual hearing protection training is a good opportunity for employers to remind their workers about the risks associated with recreational noise.
Louise Vallee, vice president, Chubb & Son, spoke at Safety 2009, this year’s American Society of Safety Engineers conference. “Baby Boomers have attended rock concerts and engaged in noisy recreational activities for nearly 50 years,” she said. Recent studies indicate that close to 40 million baby boomers are experiencing some degree of hearing loss—twice as many as expected. Vallee added that corporate executives must be educated about recreational hearing loss issues, which further support the need for hearing conservation programs for the workplace.
In addition, The National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) has petitioned OSHA to reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for noise. A letter from the group cited the fact that nearly 22 million American workers are exposed to hazardous noise on a daily basis and that occupational hearing loss continues to plague diverse industries.
Citing research from NIOSH and other sources, the association claims that American workers face a considerable risk of noise-induced hearing loss from working long term under the present limits.
If workplace monitoring determines that employees need to wear hearing protection, such as earmuffs, earplugs, canal caps, or a combination thereof, employers should enforce the use of the proper personal protective equipment. Also, they should help their employees to get a good fit to provide the most protection.
The hearing protection training should include instructions to take these preventive measures:
- Keep ear protectors clean; wash them regularly according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before inserting earplugs.
- Inspect your ear protectors before putting them on. If they’re loose or cracked, report it.
- Workers also need to recognize the symptoms of hearing damage. Tell your workers to let you know immediately if they experience the following symptoms:
- Noise or ringing in ears
- Trouble hearing people when they speak
- Trouble hearing certain high or soft sounds
- Needing a higher volume on the TV or radio—high enough that other people complain
Shop the complete line of hearing protection products: disposable earplugs, reusable earplugs, and ear muffs available from Cole-Parmer.