Hearing Protection Required...But Why Aren't Workers Wearing Them?

Posted by Empire Safety on Jan 18, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Hearing protection required.jpgTwenty-two million workers are exposed to hazardous noise. That’s twenty-two million people every year! Whether it is just one time or daily exposure, the effect on the workforce is shocking. Not surprising however, is that those that are most effected work in the manufacturing sector.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational hearing loss is the most commonly recorded occupational illness in manufacturing. In order for hearing loss to be considered work related by OSHA, the hearing loss must be severe enough that a worker’s hearing has become impaired. So, while many workers have measurable occupational hearing loss, most have not yet become hearing-impaired, so the reality is that many more are likely impacted than reported.

Let’s take a look at why hearing protection is so important:  

  • 9 Million people are exposed to toxic chemicals that are capable of permanently damaging hearing
  • 4 Million workers are exposed to damaging noise every day in the workplace
  • Hearing loss accounts for about 14% of occupational illness
  • Approximately 82% of the cases involving occupational hearing loss were reported among workers in the manufacturing sector
  • $242 million in annual workers’ compensation
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So, we know that wearing the right hearing protection protects workers from hearing loss. Right? The next question is: why aren’t workers wearing Hearing protection?

This is what the workforce is saying:

  • My employer doesn’t provide them
  • They are uncomfortable
  • The earplugs don’t fit well
  • It’s too hot to wear earmuffs
  • My earplugs get dirty when I put them down
  • I can’t hear my coworkers or warnings
  • I forget to put them in/on
  • I can’t use with other PPE

Industrial hearing protection is the last line of defense against hearing loss!

Workers need to know what the noise level is and what the effects can be if they don't wear the correct hearing protection. If the levels aren’t already known on the job site, using a Sound Level Meter/Dosimeter can make sure you are always prepared with the right hearing protection. Knowing the hazards that are present should always be the first step in facility safety.

If workers aren’t aware of the risks that are present, how could you expect them to take the right protective measures? 

Know the OSHA ear protection requirements and evaluate the NRR rating necessary for the job at hand. OSHA CFR 1910.95 defines permissible noise exposure in an 8-hour period as less than 90 decibels.  This is in a bit of a conflict with NIOSH’s allowable noise exposure limit of less than 85 decibels in an 8-hour period. It’s important to note that as noise increases, the amount of time you can safely spend in that environment decreases and it does so exponentially. Protect your workers with the best hearing protection for the job.

Earplugs:               

  • Metal-detectable
  • Expandable foam plugs
  • Pre-molded reusable foam plugs
  • Canal caps
  • Corded vs. uncorded
  • Handy plug stations can be placed anywhere in facility, ensuring all workers have easy access 

 Earmuffs:              

  • Noise cancelling earmuffs
  • Radio & stereo earmuffs
  • Sound management
  • Can be paired with uncorded earplugs for increased protection
Most times dual protection is not necessary, but in those situations that noise exceeds 100 dBA (aircraft engine maintenance, metal riveting, etc.) dual protection could possibly be an appropriate solution. It’s important to remember that in real-life situations; sometimes the NRR ratings aren’t 100% reliable, so it’s so important to have an alternative way of increasing protection.   

 Hearing Bands:      

  • Protect plugs from touching contaminated surfaces
  • Cooler than earmuffs
  • More convenient than disposable
  • Great for intermittent use

Mandatory noise conservation programthis is your responsibility!

  1. Measure noise levels and calibrate instruments often
  2. Provide free annual audiograms
  3. Provide hearing protection and training
  4. Fit & refit workers as necessary
  5. Regularly monitor adequacy of hearing protection

Exposure to high levels of noise causes hearing loss and other harmful health effects. The extent of the damage depends primarily on the intensity of the noise and duration of the exposure. We know these things. Let’s makes sure our workers do as well. Training employees to know the risks and understand the long-term effects is what will increase the likelihood that PPE will actually be worn. 

Fitting and training sessions should go beyond a bucket of earplugs and a quick training video. By offering a selection of hearing protection, workers will be able to find protection that fits them comfortably and they will be more motivated to wear them. It’s important that workers are provided with PPE they can actually use and ones that allow them to do the task at hand. Rarely is anything one-size fits all, especially not safety equipment.

Make sure you save money on potential fines, lawsuits, workers compensation, sick time and lost production by simply following the rules. With minimal investment you can ensure the right protection for the job.  A heathy worker is a happy and productive worker and that just makes your job easier. Doesn't it?

Topics: Hearing Protection, Job Safety, OSHA