As part of a comprehensive health and safety program, employers may want provide workers with hearing protection. Excess noise in the workplace may cause workers to develop hearing problems, and prolonged exposure to occupational noise may result in permanent damage. Businesses may want to make sure workers are equipped with workplace safety resources like ear muffs and other hearing protection devices that are essential to limit common noise exposures.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an estimated 30 million people are exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace. Both short- and long-term noise exposure may result in hearing damage or hearing loss. Health effects include a temporary change in hearing and ringing in the ears (tinnitus). OSHA cited data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that found more than 21,000 workers reported hearing loss in 2009.
Sources of noise exposure
Employers may want to be cautious about the noise levels of occupational noise, including handsaws, bulldozers and diesel trucks, according to an infographic by Honeywell on EHS Today. OSHA’s permissible exposure limit (PEL) for noise is 90 A-weighted sound levels (dbA) for all workers during an eight-hour day. Workers may be exposed to noises that exceed this limit. For instance, the sounds from table saws are 93 decibels (dB). Employers also may want to make sure they are complying with OSHA’s standard for even higher levels as workers are limited to two hours of exposure for noise that generates sounds reaching 100 dbA sound levels.
Even when workers are exposed to noise for a short period of time, they are at risk for hearing damage and may want to want hearing protection even if the noise will last a few seconds.
Concern about hazards of occupational noise
A recent survey by EPIC Hearing Healthcare (EPIC) found 40% of all workers believed their workplaces were noisy. However, the survey indicated a higher number of workers with suspected or confirmed hearing problems responded with the same answer, as 67% of employees with diagnosed hearing issues said their workplace was full of noise.
Although workers said they believed their job exposed them to noise, fewer than 1 in 4 employees made the effort to check their hearing. Others also may decline treatment, saying they may be concerned about employer perceptions.
“Some employees, especially older ones, still view hearing loss negatively and resist treatment, such as wearing hearing aids, as a sign of aging,” said Brad Volkmer, president and CEO of EPIC Hearing Healthcare.
While employees are worried about what their employer might think about hearing loss, the survey showed employers are willing to offer support for employees seeking treatment for hearing loss. Businesses may consider tailoring their benefits administration to ensure workers get their hearing checked regularly. Employers also may want to offer workers health benefits that provide discounts for hearing aids that may enhance their ability to hear and increase workplace productivity.
Choose hearing protection to limit exposure
Businesses also may invest in personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid hearing loss. To protect workers from hearing loss and damage, companies may want to educate their workers on the types of hearing protection available. In an article in EHS Today, Theresa Schulz, hearing conservation manager for Honeywell Safety Products, wrote hearing protection like earmuffs are simple and easy to use to block out occupational noise.
Schulz recommends employers choose earmuffs that are comfortable and are rated as having good noise-blocking potential. When looking for hearing protection, employers may want to look for high numbers in the noise-reduction rating (NRR), which indicate it is effective in limiting noise exposure.