At a neighbor’s barbecue recently, I met an older gentleman who talked about his recent retirement from a printing organization. He spent years running printing presses and maintaining large machines that pumped out millions of printed materials each week.
When I started to share information about Arbill and protecting workers, I couldn’t help but notice the man having trouble hearing my words. His wife chimed in that her husband started losing his hearing over time. She thought it was “selective listening” at first but realized too late that damage had been done while her husband worked in a "noisy" environment over a prolonged period of time.
In today’s workforce, approximately 30 million people are exposed to hazardous noise. Thousands of workers every year suffer from preventable hearing loss due to high workplace noise levels. Since 2004, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that nearly 125,000 workers have suffered significant, permanent hearing loss.
Sound can have a lasting impact on our hearing and the way we work. Prolonged exposure to hazardous sound can’t be corrected by surgery or hearing aids. When hearing is damaged, it doesn’t fix itself and return.
Help Prevent Hearing Loss
Employers with facilities that have hazardous noise levels should implement a hearing loss prevention program. The goal of such a program would be to spare workers from disabling hearing impairments. This type of program, if implemented successfully, benefits the company with reduced medical expenses and worker compensation costs, not to mention minimizing or eliminating the long term effects of hearing loss. We’ve also seen where such a program, if done correctly, can lead to improved morale and work efficiency.
There are eight components of a successful hearing loss prevention program:
1. Hearing Loss Prevention Program Audit: Ideally, a carefully conducted audit should be performed before any program to prevent hearing loss is put into place, or before any changes in an existing program are made.
2. Noise Exposure Monitoring: An employer is responsible for identifying employees who are exposed to noise.
3. Engineering and Administrative Controls: The use of engineering controls should reduce ototraumatic exposure to the point where the hearing hazard is significantly reduced or eliminated.
4. Audiometric Evaluation: Audiometric evaluation is crucial to the success of the hearing loss prevention program, since it is the only way to determine whether occupational hearing loss is being prevented. Management must allocate sufficient time and resources to the audiometric program to allow accurate testing, otherwise, the resulting audiograms will be useless.
5. Use of hearing protection devices: When employees are exposed to sound levels at or exceeding the action level (85 dBA TWA) hearing protection devices (HPD) must be provided.
6. Education and Motivation: Clearly visible warning signs should be posted at the entrance of areas where noise exposures equal or exceed 85 dBA TWA. Annual training must be provided for all workers who are exposed to noise at or above 85 dBA TWA
7. Record Keeping: Hearing loss prevention program records should include documentation of all items for each element of the program. Noise exposure records shall be maintained for at least two years and audiometric test records shall be maintained for at least the duration of employment.
8. Program Evaluation: Hearing loss prevention programs require periodic evaluation to assure their effectiveness.
I can tell you first hand that organizations don’t always choose to do the right things to protect workers from hazardous sound. And during my conversation with the retiree at the barbecue, there was an unmistakable sadness in the eyes of the retiree’s spouse, as her husband struggled to hear the conversation. If you are in a position to help your coworkers and your organization protect its employees, we’re here to help you.
Have a safe day!