Train Workers to Protect Their Hearing

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Train Workers to Protect Their Hearing

Twenty-five percent of workers reported that they were exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace, according to a study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Over time, these exposures can lead to permanent hearing loss and impair workers’ ability to hear warning sounds or communicate clearly with coworkers. Even worse, the development of hearing loss can be so gradual; workers may not realize they are suffering until it’s too late. Fortunately, there are different measures that can provide multiple levels of hearing protection for your people. Provide the proper training, and apply the Hierarchy of Controls for noise levels to determine your plant or job site’s most effective strategies.
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By John Heniff, Content Copywriter, Magid

According to a study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 25% of workers reported that they were exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace. Over time, these exposures can lead to permanent hearing loss and impair workers’ ability to hear warning sounds or communicate clearly with coworkers. Even worse, the development of hearing loss can be so gradual, workers may not realize they are suffering until it’s too late. Fortunately, there are different measures that can provide multiple levels of hearing protection for your employees.

First, provide the proper training, so workers understand the risks and know how to protect themselves. Be sure to reinforce your message with posted reminders and periodic safety refreshers.

But keeping everyone educated is only part of the battle. Take a look at your worksite environment and apply the Hierarchy of Controls for noise levels to determine your most effective strategies.

Illustration of the Hierarchy of Controls

Eliminate the Source of the Noise

The most effective way to control noise exposures at your workplace is to eliminate the source of noise altogether. Even if this means workers need to perform tasks in new and different ways, eliminating the source of noise is the most effective method in the hierarchy. Consider speaking with a safety assessor if you’re looking for a second opinion on the best way to eliminate noise hazards.

Replace Loud Equipment with Quieter Equipment

If you can’t completely remove a machine or tool, you can upgrade it and replace it with a quieter, more efficient alternative. For example, if you’re planning to purchase a new miter saw or power drill, research and compare the noise output between different models. Switching to quieter equipment, even by just a few A-weighted decibels, can create a quieter workplace.

Engineer Ways to Control the Noise

If you can’t remove or replace a noise hazard, you can redesign equipment and construct barriers like separate control rooms to distance workers from noise. If your plant has concrete walls and steel equipment, acoustic panels can reduce reverberation in cavernous spaces by absorbing and diffusing sound waves. Blanket enclosures, door seal kits, and sound-dampening sheets can help decouple and dampen sound from machines and high-traffic areas, too.

Change the Ways Your People Work

Use scheduling decisions and administrative controls to protect your workers before they set foot in their work area.

  • If a noisy task is on tomorrow’s schedule, move it to a time when fewer workers will be present.
  • Designate or create “quiet areas” away from excessively loud work zones to provide a place where your workers can get away from noise hazards.
  • Put up safety reminder posters to keep your employees thinking about how long they can work in loud environments, even if they’re wearing hearing protection.
  • Train your workers to make sure everyone understands what causes hearing loss, that hearing loss is permanent, and the right ways to protect their hearing.
  • Set up specific times for working in loud environments to limit the amount of time workers spend in noisy areas. When sound levels equal or exceed 85 dBA over an 8-hour time-weighted average, restructure schedules so workers don’t exceed OSHA noise exposure limits (listed below).
Hours in a Loud Environment Sound Level (dBA)
8 90
6 92
4 95
3 97
2 100
1.5 102
1 105
0.5 110
0.25 (or less) 115
*Source: Permissible Noise Exposure Levels according to OSHA Standard Number 1910.95

Protect Your Workers with PPE

Hearing protection options
Hearing Protection Options
 

PPE is your last line of defense after you have implemented all other measures to eliminate hazardous noise. Give your workers different kinds of hearing protection so they can try them out and decide on the most comfortable options. Ear canals come in different sizes, so standard earplugs may not fit every worker properly. In these situations, you may have a worker who likes earmuffs better than corded or uncorded earplugs. When workers choose their PPE, they’ll be more invested in wearing it, too.

Download FREE resources to remind your workers about the importance of hearing protection.