So often, we associate injury with pain. Broken bones, pulled muscles and lacerations all involve a level of pain. The pain initiates a response. If we are in the middle of a run and strain an Achilles tendon, we will be stopping at some point. Our initial response might be to try to run through it, but for anyone who has experienced this injury, you know that you won’t run through it for very long. The injury will get worse the longer you run on it and recovery will take longer.
Noise-induced hearing loss is very different. In most cases, the noise level does not create pain and for that reason, there is no need for a response to minimize pain. Noise at the 85-90 decibel level is not unusual in many work environments. It is not a noise level that is going to cause most people to feel there is a need to do anything to reduce the noise or wear hearing protection. Yet, over time, this noise level can lead to permanent hearing loss.
According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration these are some earlier indicators that noise is an issue in a workplace.
“There are various factors that may indicate noise is a problem in the workplace. While people react differently to noise, subjective responses should not be ignored because they may provide warnings that noise may be at unacceptable levels.
Noisy conditions can make normal conversation difficult.
- When noise levels are above 80 decibels (dB), people have to speak very loudly.
- When noise levels are between 85 and 90 dB, people have to shout.
- When noise levels are greater than 95 dB, people have to move close together to hear each other at all.”
If you feel that there may be a noise issue in your workplace, you should conduct a noise survey.
OSHA lists the following steps to properly perform a noise survey.
1. Tour the facility and develop a detailed understanding of facility operations and potential noise sources. Take the tour with someone who is familiar with plant operations. Speak with knowledgeable personnel about operations and maintenance requirements. Make notes on a diagram of the floor plan if possible. Look for indications that noise may be a problem.
2. Use a sound level meter to take spot readings of operations that are in question. It may be useful to mark the sound levels on a diagram of the floor plan. Make notes regarding what equipment is on or off.
3. Estimate exposures by identifying workers and their locations and estimate the length of time they spend in different areas or how long they operate particular equipment or tools.
The above survey may lead to the need to perform a more complete survey to determine the noise exposure for workers over the course of an entire shift. This audio dosimeter study will provide an accurate picture of both the decibel levels and time of exposure. This is important because the impact of noise on a person’s hearing is based on the combination of decibels and exposure time.
Once the noise levels and exposure times are determined steps can be taken to reduce the noise, reduce the exposure time for employees or provide hearing protection. Additionally, if the 8 hour noise level that workers are exposed to is 85 decibels or greater, OSHA requires that a hearing conservation program be implemented. This involves hearing tests and training of exposed employees This link will take you to the OSHA Hearing Conservation Standard for general industry. The construction industry standard does not have a similar requirement and focuses mainly on when hearing protection is required.
Hearing loss is frustrating due to the way that it effects communications and affects activities of daily life. Unlike most running injuries, hearing loss is permanent. This week’s tool box talk focuses on hearing protection both on the job and at home. Please feel free to share this with your employees and your family.
Rich Galutia CSP specializes in the areas of employee safety (OSHA), trucking compliance (FMCSA) and animal feed safety (FDA).