According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise each year. Potentially harmful levels of industrial noise can arise for many different reasons in various working environments – from indoors in a factory to outdoors working with machinery and tools.
And, did you know that the CDC lists hearing loss as the third most common chronic physical condition among adults in the United States?
It’s OK if you answered no. However, it’s important to know that noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common permanent but preventable occupational injury.
In industrial settings, workers operate heavy machinery, power tools and are exposed to other hazards that could inflict immediate physical harm at any moment, while hearing damage occurs over time. For many, hearing loss goes unnoticed until later in life once the damage is already done.
Noise hazards are everywhere when working on-site, but taking the proper precautions can mitigate risk and prevent injuries.
There are many ways to protect worker hearing, including a variety of earmuffs and ear plugs that can be used from the simplest to most complicated tasks.
Here’s what you should know when choosing the best hearing protection for your industrial job.
Understand and assess the risk
When looking to determine the best-fit hearing protection for a dangerous environment, safety managers must first identify the equipment that is causing noise exposure to fully understand the levels of risk associated with each tool and piece of equipment. Whenever possible, immediately eliminate or reduce extreme noise levels, or offer workers suitable hearing protection.
For reference, any noise above 85 decibels (dB) has the potential to cause long-term hearing loss. Some examples of common noise hazards on-site are when using a bulldozer (100 dB) and a chainsaw (110 dB). Impact-noise exposures are enough to be harmful too. Repeated short spurts of noise, such as hammering in a nail (120 dB), can cause hearing damage.
Ensure proper fit and comfort
There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to hearing protection. If a worker’s hearing protection doesn’t fit properly, it cannot provide the proper protection from harmful noise. An eighth of an inch can be the difference between receiving the stated level of protection based on the noise reduction rating on a hearing protection device and getting no protection at all. Fit-testing provides an accurate, real-world picture of your employees’ hearing protection and helps safety managers identify comfortable, convenient and compatible solutions.
Another aspect to consider is a hearing protection device’s compatibility with other personal protective equipment (PPE), such as safety eyewear and head and face protection.
For example, safety eyewear with thick frames (6mm) can cause a gap between the head and earmuffs, providing an easy way for sound to penetrate the earcup. In this situation, ear plugs would be the best fit hearing protection solution based on the holistic PPE required for the job.
Workers won’t prioritize hearing protection if they don’t understand the dangers of noise induced hearing loss. So, make it a priority to educate teams on site-specific noise hazards. There are multiple ways to educate your team, including:
- educating workers on the life-changing consequences of noise induced hearing loss through anecdotes, audio files and videos
- inviting safety specialists to speak on hearing protection
- encouraging compliance through positive incentives
- using visible posters detailing the importance of hearing protection
Prioritize protecting your workers’ hearing
Noise induced hearing loss is painless and causes no visible signs of damage. And, while potentially damaging noises may not cause immediate issues, the slowly progressing damage can accumulate over time and can be 100 percent permanent.
The solution to preventing occupational noise induced hearing loss is having a continuous focus on hearing loss prevention, providing proper training and fit-testing and offering the appropriate hearing protection device styles and sizes.
When hearing protection is used correctly, it does a great job of keeping workers safe.