One of the most common occupational diseases (along with being one of the most preventable) is Hearing Loss. In today’s blog post we examine the different approaches employers and employees can take to reduce their risk of Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).
Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is an occupational disease that results in permanent hearing loss from exposure to high levels of noise for a long period of time. NIHL is one of the most common and most preventable occupational diseases. Many workers are at risk for NIHL if they are not properly protecting their hearing while in the workplace. Hearing loss is a slow process that can take years to develop but by the time you notice a change in your hearing the damage has already been done.
What can we do to prevent worker hearing loss?
Preventing hearing loss is a combined effort on the part of employers and employees. The best way to protect hearing is to reduce noise at the source. If it is not possible for employers to reduce the noise in the workplace then employees must wear hearing protectors to reduce the amount of noise reaching the ears.
What can employers do to reduce noise in the workplace?
1. Engineering Controls – modifying or replacing equipment to reduce the noise hazard
Examples of Engineering Controls include:
- Choosing low-noise tools and machinery
- Monitoring and lubricating machines and equipment
- Placing a barrier between the noise source and the employee
- Enclosing or isolating the noise source
2. Administrative Controls – changes in the workplace that reduce/eliminate worker exposure to noise
Examples of Administrative Controls include:
- Operating noisy machines during shifts when fewer people are exposed
- Limiting the amount of time a worker spends at a noise source
- Providing a quiet area for workers
- Restricting worker presence to a suitable distance from any noisy equipment
3. Hearing Protection Devices – ear muffs, ear plugs, etc. designed to protect worker hearing
Employers must advise workers of the mandatory need to wear hearing protection devices if the noise/sound level exceeds 85 decibels. Arrangements must be made so that every employee has the proper hearing protective equipment and procedures must be in place to ensure all workers wear their hearing protection devices when required.
4. An Effective Hearing Conservation Program – must be implemented when worker noise exposure is greater than 85 dBA for an 8 hour exposure.
This program is implemented by the employer and strives to prevent initial occupational hearing loss, preserve/protect hearing, and equip workers with the knowledge and hearing protection devices necessary to protect them.
What can employees to do protect themselves from NIHL?
All workers must ensure they are wearing the proper hearing protectors if the noise level exceeds 85 decibels. If your employer indicates a hearing protective device must be worn it is crucial to ensure the device is worn at all appropriate times while in the workplace.
The effectiveness of hearing protectors is greatly reduced if protectors don’t fit properly or are only worn part-time.
Examples of Hearing Protectors:
- Earplugs – inserted to block the ear canal
- Semi-insert ear plugs – 2 ear plugs held over the ends of the ear canal by a rigid headband
- Earmuffs – sound-reducing material and soft ear cushions that fit around the ear and hard outer cups, held together by a headband
It is a combined effort on the parts of both the employer and the employee to ensure workers are protected from the risk of developing Noise Induced Hearing Loss. The best way to protect hearing is to reduce noise at the source. This means employers must use methods such as engineering controls, administrative controls, hearing protective devices, and Hearing Conservation Programs to reduce noise in the workplace and protect their workers.
If noise levels can not be reduced to under 85 decibels then employees must work with their employer to ensure their hearing is protected with the use of hearing protection devices including earplugs and earmuffs.
Implementing the processes above will allow for reduced exposure to loud noise and will help all workers reduce their risk for NIHL.