Safety watch: Protecting workers from hearing loss

Updated Sep 6, 2018

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Different levels of noise are all around crew members every day on jobsites.

However, whenever workers are exposed to some of those sounds for hours on end every day, hearing loss can become a serious problem.

HocApproximately 22 million Americans are exposed to noise levels loud enough to damage hearing every year, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

In fact, 4 million workers go to work each day with damaging noise, and 10 million people in the U.S. have a noise-related hearing loss.

“In 2008, approximately 2 million U.S. workers were exposed to noise levels at work that put them at risk of hearing loss,” NIOSH says. “In 2007, approximately 23,000 cases were reported of occupational hearing loss that was great enough to cause hearing impairment. Reported cases of hearing loss accounted for 14 percent of occupational illness in 2007.”

For safety, NIOSH recommends that workers should not be exposed to noise levels that amount to more than 85 decibels for eight hours.

The organization put together a Noise Meter to help show how many decibels certain pieces of equipment put out.

LookatnoiseFor instance, a chainsaw has a sound intensity of 110 dB, and without proper personal protective equipment, running a chainsaw for two minutes can be dangerous to the human ear.

To help workers be more aware of hearing loss issues, NIOSH created a program called “Buy Quiet.”

The initiative is designed to encourage businesses to purchase quieter machinery.

“While Buy Quiet is simple in concept, the tools necessary to implement it have been lacking,” NIOSH says. “Noise level data for specific pieces of equipment or machinery have not been readily available for business owners and those purchasing equipment and machinery.

Some of the benefits of the program include:

  • Reducing the risk of hearing loss.
  • Reducing the long-term costs of audiometric testing, personal protective equipment and workers compensation. Conservative estimates provide $100 per dBA of savings when purchasing the quieter product. This savings is applicable across a wide variety of machinery and equipment.
  • Helping companies comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other noise regulation requirements.
  • Reducing the impact of noise on the community.

Another tool to help provide information on hearing loss is OSHA’s pocket guide.

The pocket guide goes into detail talking about hearing loss, how it happens and how to prevent it.

According to NIOSH, noise-induced hearing loss can’t be reversed, but it is 100 percent preventable.

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