www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/19448-protect-workers-hearing
sh0316hearingfactory2.jpg
Image: usak/iStockphoto

Protect workers’ hearing

February 23, 2020

Is the noise at your workplace harming your hearing? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise on the job every year.

OSHA’s permissible exposure limit is 90 decibels averaged over eight working hours, and the standard uses a 5 dBA exchange rate. “This means 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 agency says.

OSHA also cautions that your workplace may be too loud if you hear ringing or humming in your ears after leaving work, have to shout to be heard by a co-worker who’s an arm’s length away, or experience temporary hearing loss when leaving work.

So, how can employers protect workers’ hearing?

Solutions

Controlling excessive noise exposure should be an employer’s first line of defense against work-related hearing loss. Two strategies are engineering and administrative controls.

Engineering controls: This method involves modifying or replacing loud equipment or making changes at the source of the noise or along its transmission path. Some changes can be costly, so OSHA points to some inexpensive, yet effective, engineering controls to consider:

  • Enclosing or isolating the source of the noise.
  • Choosing low-noise options when purchasing new machinery.
  • Using sound walls or curtains around loud machines.
  • Keeping machines well-lubricated.

Administrative controls: These types of controls involve making changes in the workplace that reduce or eliminate a worker’s exposure to noise. Employers can implement administrative controls by:

  • Running noisy machines during shifts in which the fewest amount of workers are exposed.
  • Reducing the amount of time a worker spends near the source of the noise. “In open space, for every doubling of the distance between the source of noise and the worker, the noise is decreased by 6 dBA,” OSHA says.
  • Creating or allowing access to quiet areas where 
workers can retreat to to avoid hazardous noise sources.

“The use of these controls should aim to reduce the hazardous exposure to the point where the risk to hearing is eliminated or minimized,” OSHA says.

For more information about protecting workers’ hearing, including information on implementing a hearing conservation program, visit osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation.