When thinking about workplace safety most people start by looking at things like fall prevention, hand protection, and other hazards that can cause immediate or severe injury. One of the most common safety concerns in the workplace, however, often gets ignored. This is the risk of hearing loss, which impacts about 22 million people every year. This fact, and most of the others discussed here are provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With this disturbing statistic in mind, it is easy to see why all facilities need to take noise and hearing loss prevention very seriously. Look through the following information about hearing loss in the workplace, and learn some great ways to help minimize the risk in your facility.
Hearing Loss is a Major Problem
Most companies know that providing hearing protection is important in certain situations, but they might not really understand just how common these situations are. This is why such a high number of people are exposed to a hearing hazard in the workplace, and why so many end up with long term hearing problems. Look at the following CDC statistics to get an idea of just how big a problem this is:
Every day there are about 2 million people who are exposed to noise in the workplace that has the potential to cause hearing loss.
Hearing loss accounts for about 14% of all occupational illness reports.
Workers in the manufacturing sector report the highest percent of workplace related hearing loss, accounting for about 82% of all reports.
There were about 23,000 unique cases of hearing loss in the workplace that was severe enough to cause a permanent hearing impairment in 2007 alone.
Types of Hearing Hazards
When looking at noise and hearing loss prevention, you need to understand that there are two main types of noise that can cause hazards to your hearing. Knowing what they are, and how to protect your employees from each is very important.
Impulse Sound – Impulse sound is a sudden, loud noise that is typically brief in nature. It could be an explosion, or more likely, a machine that activates quickly making a loud noise.
Continuous Exposure – Continuous exposure is often more common in the workplace. This type of noise is the type which may not be devastatingly loud, but it is constantly there. The danger here is that people can get used to it, despite the fact that it is causing damage.
To prevent hearing loss, you need to be able to predict impulse sound in the facility whenever possible, and provide protection in areas where continuous exposure to loud noises is present. Both of these types of noise are very dangerous, and should be taken equally seriously by employers.
Personal Protection Equipment & Hearing Loss
One of the best ways to help improve the noise and hearing loss prevention of your facility is to make sure that there is proper personal protection equipment on site. There are many types of hearing protection available, so make sure you choose the right options for your facility. The following are a few of the most common options to consider:
Ear Plugs – These are the simplest, but can be very effective. When people work in an area where there is continuous noise, ear plugs are an inexpensive option that will block out the bulk of the damaging noise. These are ideal for people who don’t need to talk with others in the area since they also block out voices quite well.
Traditional Ear Muffs – For louder locations where you need to block out a greater amount of noise, the over the ear noise protection will be necessary. These options can block a huge percentage of the noise, allowing employees to work safely in any area.
Electronic Ear Muffs – This is a modern option that can actually drown out all background noise, but then capture things like voices and play them back into your ear. This is perfect for those that need to talk while at work, but still want the hearing protection.
In most facilities, it is best to provide multiple different options that the employees can choose from. This will help because everyone can pick the option that they are most comfortable with. The more comfortable the protection, the more likely they will want to use it on a regular basis.
Whatever type of hearing protection you decide to provide for your employees, make sure it is always available. In addition, make sure your employees know how to properly use it so that they can get the most benefit possible.
When to Wear Hearing Protection
Even when this type of hearing protection equipment is available, people often don’t really know when they need to take advantage of it. The facility should make it clear which areas have high levels of noise, and require the use of hearing protection.
This is especially important when there is an area where infrequent impact noise can be present because people won’t hear anything until it is too late.
One of the easiest ways to let people know when they need to be wearing hearing protection is to use some sort of non-verbal communication. This could be done, for example, with safety signs. Putting up signs when entering an area with potentially hazardous noise levels can be very effective.
Another option is to use floor marking tape. Choose a specific color to represent hazardous noise levels, so when people see it on the ground they know that they need to be wearing the proper protection. This is a very simple, and affordable, way to make sure everyone is aware of when they need to be wearing hearing protection.
Most facilities know that wearing a welding mask while using a welding torch is not optional, or wearing a hard hat while in an area where falling objects could be present. Unfortunately, many facilities make the mistake of allowing employees to pick and choose if and when they wear the hearing protection.
In order to ensure noise and hearing loss prevention is taken seriously, facilities should make these protective items mandatory. This is essential precisely because of the fact that it is often very difficult to know when the noise levels are at a damaging level.
By making it mandatory, everyone will know that they have to wear the protection in certain areas of the facility, even if they don’t really think it is needed. This will help dramatically cut down on the risk of hearing loss for the employees and allow everyone to work more safely.
It is also important to remember that as a facility, having proper noise and hearing loss prevention strategies in place is not optional. Regulatory agencies like OSHA and others have a variety of requirements that facilities must follow.
If they do an inspection and find that your employees are at risk because you are not providing them with the proper levels of hearing protection, it could result in fines or other penalties. For this reason, and many others, it just makes sense to do all you can to help keep everyone’s hearing protected.