When we think of workplace protective equipment, we may not think of the need for hearing protection. NIOSH reports that 17% of workers who have been exposed to noise on the job develop hearing difficulties, with $242 million in workers’ compensation costs resulting from hearing damage.
Because they are typically exposed to them repeatedly, loud noises at the workplace can permanently adversely affect your employees’ health. Employees who suffer from hearing loss do not perform optimally or communicate efficiently at work. If you don’t follow OSHA’s hearing protection guidelines, you can permanently harm your employees.
In the Workplace, What Causes Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss can develop in workers who are exposed to hazardous noises or chemicals that harm their hearing. According to a NIOSH study, hearing loss is common in people who experience tinnitus, and it is linked to general depressive symptoms and cognitive decline.
Researchers have identified the construction and mining industries as being extremely noisy working environments. Solid waste combustor and incinerator industries have the highest rates of hearing loss in any sub-sector.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Noise Standards
Employers must protect workers’ hearing by limiting noise exposure under OSHA’s noise standards. The goal is to lower long-term damage and stop noise-induced physical and emotional issues from affecting workers.
Here are three warning signs you need to examine the noise levels at your workplace:
- Humming or ringing in the ears
- Substantial or momentary hearing loss
- Having to shout at a co-worker at arm’s length so they can hear you
How to Protect Workers from Hearing Loss
OSHA offers several recommendations to prevent permanent hearing damage:
Engineer control measures to reduce noise levels. This may involve the use of low-noise tools and machinery, proper maintenance and lubrication of equipment, enclosing the source of the noise, or installing sound walls or curtains.
Let workers take breaks from noise. Provide quiet environments where workers can take a break from noise exposure, such as soundproof rooms, and limiting exposure to noise.
Offer hearing protection devices such as earmuffs and earplugs. For noise levels of 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA) or higher for an 8-hour period, employers must implement a hearing conservation program, In the construction industry, the exposure level requiring a hearing conservation program is a bit higher at 90 dBA. This includes providing workers with noise protection equipment, training them to recognize hazardous noise exposure, and developing a program to evaluate workers’ hearing.
Having technology that can measure worker exposure to noise so employers can take proactive measures to protect their workers is one of the most critical parts of a successful hearing protection program. For any employer where there is the potential for hearing damage, it’s critical that you proactively gauge your workers’ exposure and develop a plan to protect them from hearing damage.