Employers Must Hear OSHA on Hearing Conservation Programs

Hearing Conservation Programs

Temporary hearing loss occurs every day, but our bodies rejuvenate hearing after rest and no exposure to noise. However, for those exposed to loud noises throughout the workday, the risk for long-term, noise-induced hearing loss increases. Ultimately, employers bear the responsibility of assessing noise exposure and implementing hearing conservation programs (HCP).

But employers often struggle to get employees to actually wear required hearing personal protective equipment (PPE), resulting in one of the most common Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) violations.

Why Hearing Conservation Programs are Vital

As mentioned earlier, temporary hearing loss occurs daily and is to be expected.

“A good example of this is when you wake up in the morning and turn on the TV, after having watched it the prior evening, and it sounds too loud,” U.S Safety Depot experts, explained. “It’s generally the result of suffering temporary hearing loss throughout the day, which required you to turn the TV sound louder in the evening to hear it. After rest and no exposure to noise, your hearing rejuvenates and becomes more sensitive again in the morning, thus the TV sounding much louder.”

This is why it’s best to ensure that when employees undergo audiograms that they be done before exposure to loud noises. The pressure from high noise flattens the cilia in the inner ear, prohibiting the ability to sense noise pressures/levels/frequencies—hearing. If the sound pressure is high enough for a sustained period of time, the cilia will not grow back. This is when permanent hearing loss occurs.

Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Decibels (dBA) of sound pressure measure sound energy levels of frequency and amplitude. Sounds above 85 dBA can cause permanent damage to the ear and hearing after long exposure. As a point of reference, a hair dryer hums around 80 dBA, and a smoke alarm beeps at 85 dBA.

Work environments must be assessed for noise exposures over a full shift. OSHA requires that if the Time Weighted Average (TWA) for an 8-hour shift is 85 dBA or greater, then the employer must implement a hearing conservation program (HCP).  If the TWA for an 8-hour shift is 90 dBA or greater, hearing protection must be used.

A compliant HCP requires a written program, annual employee audiograms, hearing protection available and annual training. As part of a training program, noise indicators, like the one from 3M, can measure dangerous noise levels and alert employees when protective hearing equipment is necessary. Noise indicators can also train employees to better recognize harmful noise levels.

Implementing a Hearing Conservation Program

One of the biggest reasons workers fail to wear hearing protection devices (HPD) is that workers feel the devices get in the way of doing their job, according to a recent NIOSH study. As a means of safety, employees must communicate with one another, and certain HPDs can interfere. Additionally, when other safety equipment such as hard hats, respiratory protection, and eye glasses are worn, HPDs can become cumbersome.

To implement a successful and compliant HCP, employers must first understand workers’ specific needs.

“The Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) on the different devices suggests the maximum level of attenuation provided worn correctly,” a safety consultant explained. “Most EHS professionals, when selecting hearing protection will assume a 50% effectiveness of the NRR.  For example, if sound exposures are at 93 dB and the goal is to get attenuation below 80, you will want to select hearing protection that will give you at least 13dB of attenuation. Using a 50% factor, one should select those with a NRR of at least 26.”

With an understanding of different devices’ NRR in a work environment, employers can start to customize their PPE offerings and provide options and alternatives that meet OSHA requirements. One size often does not fit all, and this is certainly true with HPDs. Involving HPD-wearers in the equipment selection process can improve adoption of the requirement.

To assess and implement an OSHA-compliant hearing conservation program, contact us today. Also, stay connected with our blog for workplace safety tips.

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