Are your employees at risk of losing their hearing? According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), every year about 30 million people in the U.S. are occupationally exposed to hazardous noise. Exposure to high levels of noise can cause permanent hearing loss that can’t be “fixed” by surgery or a hearing aid. Loud noise that makes it difficult to hear warning signals can also contribute to workplace accidents and injuries.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommended that all employee exposure to noise should not exceed average noise levels of 85 decibel averaged over an 8-hour workday. If the noise is louder than 85 decibels—roughly the amount of noise emitted by a garbage disposal—a hearing conservation program and engineering controls are required to help protect employee hearing on the job.
For employees at risk, audiometric testing is used to monitor their hearing threshold at various sound levels and frequencies. Both a baseline test must be done, followed up by annual testing. Audiometric tests can be conducted by local medical clinics or a mobile audiometric testing service.
To help protect employees’ hearing, employers should consider engineering controls to eliminate or reduce noise levels. In addition, hearing conservation training, and hearing protection such as earplugs and earmuffs can be used to reduce the risk of hearing loss. OSHA also provides additional information on hearing conservation.