One of our top trainers recently found himself touring a manufacturing plant out west in a large and noisy facility before addressing the topic of Hearing Conservation with a group of managers.
As our trainer was whisked around the bustling site, he attempted to have a couple of conversations with workers, and had a tough time hearing over the noise of machines and equipment.
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. Listed as one of the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the United States for more than 25 years, thousands of workers every year suffer from preventable hearing loss due to high workplace noise levels.
The trainer, once inside the friendly confines of a noise-free conference room, noted the buzzing in his ears from the 15 minutes spent on the floor. “This is not the way it should be,” he shared with the group. “Your workers are at risk every minute they are out in that facility without the proper hearing protection.”
He shared that 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.
Speaking in a low voice, the trainer was signaled by a manger in the back of the room. “Could you speak up?” the manager asked sheepishly.
“Exactly!” responded the trainer while raising his voice. “I’m glad I have your attention.”
Prolonged exposure can’t be corrected by surgery or hearing aids. When hearing is damaged, it doesn’t magically correct itself and return.
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.
Loud noise can also bring on…
communication and concentration interference
physical and psychological stress
increased possibility of workplace accidents and injuries because of difficulty hearing warning signals
inability to understand speech and communicate effectively
even socialization issues
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (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 or you have to S H O U T to be heard by a coworker an arm's length away… or you experience temporary hearing loss when leaving work.
The Arbill trainer suggested immediate action to controlling noise and minimizing or eliminate the hazard. “If noise cannot be isolated, blocked or engineered to reduce decibels, we can recommend effective earplugs to reduce or eliminate the risk,” he added. He suggested many quality products available on the market and talked about the importance of proper fitting.
In this case, corrective action was necessary. And because of our trainer’s actions, those workers will be safer going forward.
Have a safe day!