According to OSHA statistics, twenty-two million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at work each year. U.S. businesses pay more than $1.5 million in penalties annually for not protecting workers from damaging noise. Hearing loss directly impacts the quality of life not only for you but also your families and friends. Noise is defined as unwanted sound and can have different effects:
- Interference with communication, job performance and your safety
- Disrupts concentration, can startle, annoy, and have other negative effects
- Causes long-term effects such as permanent hearing loss
- Noise can cause pain, ringing in the ears, and even nausea if exposure level is severe
Ideally, engineering design will control noise exposures; however, this may not always be feasible. In situations where it is not feasible, hearing protection devices can be used to reduce noise levels in the ear. Hearing protection devices are available as ear plugs or earmuffs.
When do you need hearing protection?
- When you are exposed to noise level that is 85 dB(a) or greater averaged over 8 hours
- If you have to shout to be heard from a co-worker three feet away from you, the noise level is high
- Hearing noise and ringing in the ears at the end of a shift, or if speech or music sounds muffled after completing a shift, but sound clear at the beginning of the next shift indicates exposure to noise levels that on the job and can cause permanent hearing impairment.
Wearing Hearing Protection Devices:
Wearing good hearing protection is an important precaution to protect the ears from high levels of noise exposure. Some tips for ensuring effective hearing protection are:
- Ensure that a good seal exists between the surface of the skin and the surface of the ear protector - a very small leak can greatly reduce the effectiveness of the protection
- Ear protectors tend to loosen because of talking, chewing, etc., and they must be reseated from time to time during the workday
- Inspect hearing protectors regularly and replace when necessary
- Maintain and clean each ear protectors
- Ear plugs should be made of soft material such as neoprene
- Most of the available ear protectors, when correctly fitted, provide about the same amount of protection (plugs or muffs)
- The best ear protector, therefore, is the one that you can wear properly
How can we reduce the noise levels?
- Engineering Controls involve modifying or replacing equipment or making changes at the noise source or along the transmission path to reduce the noise level at the worker's ear.
- Choosing low-noise tools
- Maintaining and lubricating equipment
- Providing barriers between the noise source and the worker
- Enclosing or isolating the noise source
- Administrative Controls are changes in the workplace that reduce or eliminate worker exposure to noise.
- Operating noisy machines during shifts when fewer workers are exposed
- Limiting the amount of time, a person spends at a noise source
- Providing quiet areas where workers can gain relief from hazardous noise sources
- Restricting worker presence to a suitable distance away from noisy equipment
- Hearing protection devices (HPDs), such as earmuffs and plugs, are considered an acceptable option to reduce exposures to noise following engineering and administrative controls
Choosing the correct (HPDs):
The choice of hearing protection devices are individual and depends on several factors including level of noise, comfort, and the suitability of the hearing protector for both the worker and the work environment. Most importantly, the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) indicates the decibel reduction a wearer can expect from a properly fitted hearing protective device. The following list provides several different types of hearing protection devices to choose from.
- Earplugs ‐ have the highest NRR (up to 33 dB) and are inexpensive. However, ear plugs must be inserted properly!
- Earmuffs – form air‐tight seal over the ear, NRR up to 30 dB; less effective when worker also has eyewear.
- Canal Caps – lower NRR; use pressure from a headband to hold the earplugs in place.