October Is National Protect Your Hearing Month

“Sure, it sometimes gets a little noisy out in Production, but do I need a Hearing Conservation Program and, if so, why should I implement one?”

Simply stated, excessive noise could be putting your organization at risk. Beyond the permanent hearing loss resulting from on-going exposure to excessive noise, it can also interfere with concentration, increase stress, reduce efficiency and cause fatigue… all key risks leading to careless behavior and likely accidents. To heighten that risk, employees in noisy areas may not hear co-workers give them warnings or directions. It is no surprise that worker’s compensation for hearing loss disability have cost U.S. businesses an estimated $242 million per year1. Those certainly are enough reasons to take all reasonable steps to prevent employee hearing loss.

But, there is also the regulatory side to consider.  OSHA’s occupational noise exposure rule, 29 CFR 1910.95 requires employers to put a hearing conservation program in-place if any employee is exposed to an average noise “action level” of 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA) over an eight-hour work period. Osha’s permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 90 dBA for all workers for an 8-hour day.  In other words, once the average noise level reaches the “action level” of 85 dbA, the Hearing Conservation Program becomes mandatory and engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) must be implemented to assure the 8-hour noise exposure does not meet or exceed the 90 dBA PEL.

To put this into perspective, normal conversation is 60 dB, a professional football game is about 85-95 dB, a hand drill is 98 dB, a rock concert is typically 95-105 dB and a chainsaw is 110 dB. So, although it has been estimated that approximately 24% of hearing loss among U.S. workers is caused by occupational exposure to excessive noise2, it is clear that activities outside of work can also be a significant contributor.

Then, how do I know if our work environment is truly “to blame” for hearing loss among our workforce? This requires area and personal noise monitoring of your employees and their work stations to determine whether excessive noise exposure exists. Once the level and source of excessive noise is identified, the corrective controls can be put in-place.  The Hearing Conservation Program mandates that each worker will have a baseline audiogram within 6 months of their initial assignment to a noisy work area, and annual audiograms after that to determine if a significant hearing loss (threshold shift) occurs in future years.

OSHA’s occupational noise exposure rule also requires annual employee training and specifies what that training program must cover, including:

  • How noise can affect hearing
  • The purpose of hearing protection equipment
  • The advantages, disadvantages, and attenuation of various types of hearing protection (ear plugs and ear muffs)
  • How to select, fit, and use hearing protection
  • How to properly care for hearing protection

In addition to the training provided, employers must make a copy of OSHA’s hearing conservation standard available to trainees and post one in the workplace.

Let CTI’s expertise in noise monitoring, hearing conservation regulations, record keeping requirements, training resources and our mobile audiometric testing lab assist you and your workforce in avoiding the health and financial costs of hearting loss due to a noisy workplace.

1 Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance, National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH), May 2, 2016.

2 Noise Levels By Decibels, National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH), October 21, 2015.

Published by Stephen Kovatch

Senior Client Manager  Stephen J. Kovatch focuses on assisting clients in establishing corporate regulatory compliance programs in the areas of air, water, and waste management. Mr. Kovatch also provides direction to industrial facility owners who are active in the transaction of contaminated property by defining objectives, coordinating soil and water sampling protocols, risk assessment, and remedial / cleanup activities. He frequently represents clients in property sales negotiations and regulatory agency and insurance proceedings.

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