When we think of a “workplace accident,” we often imagine amputation, paralysis, and in some extreme cases death. Each day, companies of all shapes and sizes face the incredible responsibility of protecting their employees from these workplace accidents.
However, one of the most common injuries is often overlooked – occupational hearing loss. A recent study from the CDC reported that nearly 13 percent of all workers suffer from at least some hearing loss.
Occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States, yet it does not often come top of mind when we consider workplace incidents. As an employer, it is your responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all employees, and that begins with noise and hearing protection.
Facts about occupational hearing loss
The first step to protecting your employees against anything that could affect their hearing ability is educating yourself on occupational hearing loss.
According to the CDC, roughly 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work each year. Additionally, over 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to dangerous chemicals, which can be harmful to the ear and can affect hearing ability.
Short-term exposure to loud noises can lead to temporary changes in hearing, such as a ringing in an employee’s ears known as tinnitus. While these symptoms typically go away within a few hours, repeated exposure can lead to permanent tinnitus or complete hearing loss over time.
Long-term exposure to these hazardous noise levels can cause permanent hearing loss, which cannot be corrected by surgery or a hearing aid. Noise-induced hearing loss can also limit one’s ability to hear high frequency sounds, understand certain speech, and seriously impair their ability to communicate with others around them.
According to OSHA, loud noises can lead to several other issues as well. For instance, loud noises can create physical and psychological stress, reduce productivity in the workplace, interfere with communication and concentration, and contribute to other serious workplace accidents and injuries by making it difficult for employees to hear warning signals.
The cost of failing to protect
Not only can occupational hearing loss damage a worker’s quality of life, it also carries a high economic price. While it is impossible to put a number on the human toll of hearing loss, OSHA reported that an estimated $242 million is spent annually on workers’ compensation for hearing loss disability.
Additionally, a recent OSHA study found that U.S. businesses paid more than $1.5 million in penalties for failing to protect employees from noise just in the last year.
So how can you protect employees from damaging noise and protect yourself from unexpected and unnecessary fines? Implement a hearing loss prevention program and invest in quality sound enclosures for noisy machinery.
Implementing a hearing loss
Hearing loss prevention programs have certainly come a long way over the past few decades. In fact, NIOSH set the following eight standards for implementing a successful hearing loss prevention program.
- Noise exposure monitoring
- Engineering and administrative controls
- Audiometric evaluation
- Use of hearing protection devices
- Education and motivation
- Record keeping
- Program evaluation
- Program audit
Importance of a quality sound enclosure
A sound or noise enclosure refers to a type of guarding that encloses a loud machine to protect employees from hearing loss or complications from noise pollution.
Sound enclosures are typically made out of plastic or clear PolyPro panels and work by using sound absorbers inside the guard to keep out a certain amount of noise. OSHA mandates that any machine that produces a noise must be guarded with soundproof panels to block out a percent of that noise.
While sound enclosures are often a highly effective means of noise control for mechanical equipment, it is important to remember that not all machines are the same.
When looking to protect your employees from the harmful noise of loud machinery, it is important to select the best sound enclosure to fit your particular needs. It’s best to look for something easy to clean, water resistant, heat reflecting and heavy duty.
With over four million workers going to work each day in an environment where damaging noise could be present, it is more important than ever to make sure you are protecting your employees and your company.