I’ve been to many manufacturing plants, construction sites and
bustling warehouses around the world. One thing that always
strikes me is the sound at these locations and the workers
that are exposed to those sounds every day. Sound can have
a lasting and profound impact on our hearing and the way we
work. So it should not be surprising that every year, 30 million
people in the United States are exposed to hazardous noise
where they work.
Noise exposure is a real concern with a big impact on the bottom line. Thousands of workers suffer every year from preventable hearing loss due to high workplace noise levels. Since 2004, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported that nearly 125,000 workers have suffered significant, permanent hearing loss. In 2009 alone, BLS reported more than 21,000 hearing loss cases.
So what causes permanent hearing loss?
First and foremost, exposure to high levels of noise. This type of prolonged exposure can’t be corrected by surgery or hearing aids. When the damage is done… it’s done.
Short term exposure to loud noise can also cause a temporary change in hearing or a ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Short-term hearing problems may go away in time after leaving the noisy area. However, repeated exposures to loud noise can lead to permanent tinnitus and/or hearing loss.
Other problems brought on by loud noise…
physical and psychological stress
communication and concentration interference
increased possibility of workplace accidents and injuries because of difficulty hearing warning signals
inability to understand speech and communicate effectively
How loud is too loud?
OSHA sets legal limits on noise exposure in the workplace based on a worker's time weighted average over an 8 hour day. With noise, OSHA's permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 90 dBA for all workers for an 8 hour day. The OSHA standard uses a 5 dBA exchange rate, meaning that when the noise level is increased by 5 dBA, the amount of time a person can be exposed to a certain noise level to receive the same dose is cut in half. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommended that all worker exposures to noise should be controlled below a level equivalent to 85 dBA for eight hours to minimize occupational noise induced hearing loss. NIOSH has found that significant noise-induced hearing loss occurs at the exposure levels equivalent to the OSHA PEL based on updated information obtained from literature reviews. NIOSH also recommends a 3 dBA exchange rate so that every increase by 3 dBA doubles the amount of the noise and halves the recommended amount of exposure time.*
In basic terms, noise may be a problem in your workplace if:
You hear ringing or humming in your ears when you leave work.
You have to shout to be heard by a coworker an arm's length away.
You experience temporary hearing loss when leaving work.
How can you reduce noise hazard?
Controlling noise can minimize or eliminate the hazard. If noise cannot be isolated, blocked or engineered to reduce decibels, there are many effective earplugs on the market to reduce or eliminate the risk.
Have a safe day!
*United States Department of Labor - https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/index.html