Noise, or undesirable sound, is one of the most common health problems to be in many workplaces.
Continued exposure to more than 85 decibels (dBA) of noise may cause gradual but permanent damage to hearing. Noise can also be detrimental to job performance, increase fatigue, and cause irritability. Exposure to high levels of noise causes hearing loss and can lead to other harmful health effect as well. Perhaps the most widely known detrimental effect of noise is noise-induced hearing loss. Such losses can be either temporary or permanent; the extent of the damage is dependent mainly upon the intensity and duration of exposure.
Some of the occupations OSHA has identified as being at high risk of hearing loss are:
- Firefighters and other first responders
- Military personnel
- Disc jockeys
- Subway workers
- Construction workers
- Factory workers
- Mine workers
Those categories might not come as a surprise, but they do serve to illustrate the range of jobs that routinely involve exposure to high and potentially damaging levels of noise.
Practically all companies directly involved in manufacturing, construction, or mining create noise as a by- product. While it cannot be totally eliminated, the negative health effects of noise can be limited by wearing the proper personal protective equipment and, in some instances, implementing engineering and/or administrative controls.
In the early 1980s, OSHA announced a hearing conservation amendment (29 CFR 1910.95, Occupational Noise Exposure Standard) that requires hearing conservation programs for all employees exposed to noise on an eight-hour, time weighted average (TWA) in excess of 85 decibels measured on an A-weighted scale (85 dBA). The permissible exposure limit is 90 dBA for an eight-hour TWA.
The first move toward protecting your employees’ hearing is to establish a hearing conservation program. Such a program includes provisions for measuring noise, implementing engineering and/or administrative controls of noise, conducting hearing tests for individual employees, and supplying the proper personal hearing protectors as needed.
OSHA requires a five-part minimum hearing conservation program for industry. It includes:
-Noise Monitoring: Sound levels must be measured to determine what safeguards are needed.
-Hearing Testing: All employees in a hearing conservation program must be tested annually.
-Employee Training and Education: Employees in a hearing conservation program must be trained every year on hearing protection.
-Hearing Protectors: Hearing protection devices should be made available to all employees according to the noise risks identified.
-Record Keeping: A company must maintain records on sound level results, equipment calibration results, and hearing test records of employees, along with its educational activities.
A noise survey of the workplace environment can be used to map what areas are most prone to noise, leading to a more efficient hearing conservation program. Workplace Safety & Health Co., Inc. can provide this service and help identify employees who need to be included in the noise control program. The results can be used to determine if an initial cost of engineering controls is a prudent investment in comparison to the ongoing costs of hearing conservation program management for your organization –helping you make decisions that are safe for sound.