Page 38 - OHS, March 2021
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These high-noise situations often result from a combination of machine components and operations such as:
■ Blasting
■ Crushing
■ Cutting
■ Extrusion
■ Grinding
■ Grinding
■ Punching
■ Riveting
■ Sanding
While machine work and operations
may be all in a day’s work for some employees, the associated noise can result in hearing loss that is gradual and painless. Unfortunately, it affects some 24 percent of U.S. workers, making occupational hearing loss one of the nation’s most common work-related hazards.2, 3
Hearing-Related Issues
Caused by Workplace Noise
The cost of noise-induced hearing loss is shocking—it has a wide-reaching and holistic effect on a person’s physical, emotional and occupational well-being.4
Physical. Excessive and/or prolonged noise can destroy inner ear nerve endings, causing permanent damage that affects a person’s ability to perform daily tasks.
Psychological. Noise-induced hearing loss can cause a wide range of mental disorders, such as irritability, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, isolation and hostility.
Occupational. Hearing impairment often interferes with communication, concentration and job performance. It is a contributing factor to workplace accidents and injuries and may have a negative impact on a worker’s lifetime earning potential.5
Three Safeguards Employers
Can Put into Place
So, what can employers do to help their employees reduce exposure and conserve their hearing? Namely, they can implement an effective and ongoing hearing conservation program that includes three key components.
Test and monitor. Naturally, the goal of employers through a hearing conservation program is to ensure safe, healthful working conditions for employees. OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.95 for Occupational Noise Exposure is a good place to start, along with the
hearing conservation guidelines issued by the Canadian Standard Association (CSA), American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Association for Standardization (ISO).6
Under these guidelines, employers with employees exposed to an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) of 85 decibels or greater should:
■ Monitor exposure levels and re- peat monitoring when noise increases as a result of changes in production, process, equipment or controls.
■ Perform baseline hearing tests on affected employees.
■ Conduct annual audiograms on affected employees and compare them to baselines.
Evaluate and ensure the adequacy of HPD attenuation for the specific noise environment. Employers must comply with OSHA’s attenuation guidelines, as outlined in the hearing protection standard Part 1910, Subpart G, Appendix B. The guidelines state that employers must calculate attenuation values and evaluate HPD attenuation for the noise environment in which it will be worn.
For example, while earplugs have their rightfulplaceinsomehearingconservation programs, foam earplugs have the potential to deliver more attenuation variability than, say, custom-molded earplugs. Earmuffs, on the other hand, deliver less attenuation variability than either foam or custom-molded earplugs. The attenuation calculation, therefore, should be a key determinant in selecting the proper solution for the environment.
Fit, provide and train employees in the use and wear of suitable HPDs. While the OSHA standard requires the use of hearing
protection, the standard does not mandate just what kind of HPDs to provide. Instead, it states in 1910.95(i)(3) that “employees shall be given the opportunity to select their hearing protectors from a variety of suitable hearing protectors provided by the employer.” This can leave employers feeling abitinthedarkastohowtodecidewhich HPDs to offer.
One consideration should be comfort. Research shows workers will not wear HPD consistently and correctly if it is ill-fitting, awkward or uncomfortable for any length of time. Not wearing HPD, of course, leads to increased noise exposure and greater risk of hearing loss, as demonstrated by a five-year study of audiometric data from 20,000 employees.7 This same study also concluded that HPDs should be selected as much for comfort, convenience and communication,inadditiontotheirability toreducenoise.
While earplugs may, at first, seem like a simple, obvious and cost-conscious solution to noise in the workplace, they are not necessarily the best solution for the grimy, grubby conditions of industrial facilities. In general, safety-conscious employers will want to evaluate over- the-ear, cap-mounted HPDs, which are more suitable for their unique working environment and comfortable enough for workers to wear them all the time.
Effective and Comfortable
Hearing Protection There’snogettingaroundit—tobeeffective in helping prevent workplace-related hearing loss in noisy environments, HPDs must be worn constantly when noise levels are high. That means they must be comfortable enough for workers to wear
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