In our everyday lives, there are many different distractions and sounds coming from all directions, especially while at work. This noise can be unnoticeable, or extremely overbearing depending on the duration and intensity. Noise, often defined as unwanted sound, can have many different effects on the human body and mind. It can interfere with communication and job performance, disrupt concentration, cause psychological effects, and can even cause hearing loss that becomes irreversible. While noise may not seem as dangerous as other hazards workers can encounter on the job, it can still have a tremendous impact on worker health and safety. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at work each year. Whether you work at a sports venue, a warehouse, or operate a jackhammer, hearing loss is preventable. Noise is a hazard that is often ignored because hearing loss is typically very gradual. This does not mean that it isn’t just as important as other dangerous hazards involved with many types of work. How do you know if your work environment is too loud? What preventative measures can you take to protect your employee’s hearing?

Know the threshold

Before you can protect your employees from hearing loss, you first must know the acceptable noise level during an 8-hour shift, which is 85bd. So, how do you determine what the noise level is in your area of work? Well, thanks to modern technology, employers can use a device called a sound level meter and measure the noise level over this 8-hour period to determine if they are exceeding the 85db threshold or not. A good rule of thumb is if you need to raise your voice to speak to someone 3 feet away, the noise levels might be over 85 decibels. If you determine that you are over this threshold, control methods must be put in place to protect employees from hearing loss.

What you can do

Once you determine that controls methods are needed, you need to determine which methods would be most effective for your workplace. First, look to engineering controls to create an overall quieter working environment. Engineering controls revolve around changing or modifying work, the environment, or the equipment to reduce the overall noise level. Examples of this includes but isn’t limited to adding a new muffler to a piece of equipment to reduce noise and moving the employees to a location farther away from the source of noise. You can also choose different equipment to use that may be quieter, maintain proper maintenance on equipment or machinery to reduce noise, install noise barriers to help separate employees from the noise, or enclose or isolate the noise source itself. You can also administer administrative controls as well to help reduce the noise and stress levels they can create. This would include operating loud equipment during shifts where fewer people would be exposed, limit the amount of time a person spends at a noise source, and providing a quiet area where employees can gain relief from hazardous noise sources. Once you have expended all engineering and administrative control methods, you can then look to PPE to create an extra barrier between employees and hazardous noise. Examples of this PPE would be earmuffs and ear plugs.

Understand the importance

In order to effectively have employees abide by the hearing protection policies and standards, you must explain to them why it is important. The most important part of any training is to make the audience understand the importance of the training. They need to understand that hearing loss is permanent, and by the time they recognize any loss in hearing, the damage has already been done and they will not get that hearing back. Workplace noise isn’t just a health hazard, it is also a safety hazard. It can cause communication issues which can result in a vast number of hazards such getting struck by a piece of equipment due to not being able to hear it approach. If a hearing conservation program is trained on and effectively implemented, the amount of hearing loss incidents will decrease drastically. Create an effective plan applicable to your industry and type of work and implement the proper control methods to effectively protect your employees from any effects of loud noise in the workplace.