OSHA’s tip of the week is: Know your workplace noise level. Ear protection can prevent hearing loss, so that’s good advice every day. All too often, when we think of workplace safety, we think in terms of the dangers we can see and possible visible injuries. But noise can be just as damaging as a slippery floor, and its effects can last much longer.
A five-year study by the National Center for Biotechnology (NCBI) showed:
- 22 million workers report exposure to hazardous noise in the workplace
- High-risk occupations are most affected, including repair and maintenance and construction trades
- 34% of the 22 million reported non-use of hearing protection devices
According to the CDC, hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses. When you think of hearing loss and situations where ear protection is necessary, images of jackhammers, large machinery, or powerful engines may come to mind. However, there are other threats. Some chemicals are ototoxic, making them harmful to the ear. So, it’s critical that you understand the hazards in your workplace and use requisite safety gear.
In the short-term, exposure to loud noises without ear protection can interfere with communication, disrupt concentration, reduce productivity, and cause stress—all of which impact overall workplace safety. The effects of these exposures may be:
- Ringing or humming in your ears
- Shouting because you cannot hear yourself clearly
- Temporary hearing loss
Prolonged exposure to loud noises kills the nerve endings in your inner ear, leading to permanent hearing loss. And hearing impairment can negatively impact quality of life. Many sufferers report both physical and psychological effects, including headaches, exhaustion, stress, and feelings of isolation.
Hearing loss also occurs as a natural aging process as the soft tissues become less flexible the transmission of vibrations through the hearing system diminishes.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended exposure limit for noise exposure is 85 decibels, A-weighted, as an eight-hour time-weighted average. The first step to preventing hearing loss in the workplace is identifying when you need ear protection. For example, if you need to shout to communicate with someone three feet away, the noise level may be over 85 decibels. There are also sound-measuring instruments that can help make more formal determinations.
And remember, not all harmful noise levels come from the workplace. Lawnmowers, weed trimmers, chain saws, snowblowers, power tools, motorcycle engines, wind noise from recreational equipment, etc. can all provide decibel levels well over the exposure limit!
There are several types of ear protection available, depending on your needs, including:
- Earplugs: Inserted in the ear canal, earplugs can be pre-molded (preformed) or moldable (foam earplugs). And there are reusable, disposable and custom options.
- Semi-insert earplugs: This type consists of two ear plugs held over the ends of the ear canal by a headband.
- Earmuffs: This is an over-ear option with sound-attenuating material and soft cushions that fit around the ear. The hard outer cups are held together by a headband.
Whenever hearing protection is required, there should be a workplace hearing loss prevention program in place.
Protecting hearing and selecting the right ear protection doesn’t have to give you a headache. We can help you not only choose the right PPE, but we can also help you assess your current safety needs. Contact us today!