October is National Protect Your Hearing Month, an annual event sponsored by the CDC to raise awareness about hearing protection. Did you know that hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the United States? The CDC estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at work each year. Hazardous noise levels in the workplace are a serious concern that not only can result in hearing loss if not protected against, but can also contribute to other causes of physical stress as well as mental stress and lower work productivity.
How do you determine if your workplace may require a hearing conservation program? According to NIOSH, if you have to raise your voice to speak to someone an arm’s length away in any area of your facility, the noise levels may be loud enough to cause hearing loss.
OSHA specifically requires employers to implement a hearing conservation program whenever employee noise exposure equals or exceeds an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) sound level of 85 decibels (dBA). The OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) for noise is 90 dBA as an 8-hour TWA.
Several sound-measuring instruments are available to measure noise levels. These include sound level meters, noise dosimeters, and octave band analyzers. In addition, NIOSH has developed a Sound Level Meter App that can be download on mobile iOS devices and used to measure noise levels.
If noise levels are determined to be high, how can they be reduced? There are three main approaches to reducing noise exposure in the workplace: engineering controls (e.g. equipment enclosures), administrative controls (e.g. rotating duties to decrease exposure time) and personal protective equipment (e.g. earmuffs, earplugs).
To learn more about National Protect Your Hearing Month, or for information on noise monitoring and determining whether or not a hearing conservation program may be needed at your workplace, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay safe!