The Dangers of Workplace Hearing Loss Are Coming in Loud and Clear
Workers who are exposed to loud noise at work have a higher risk of hearing loss. Reducing noise levels, limiting the number of time workers are exposed to hazardous noise, and protecting workers with the proper PPE can reduce the risk.
Workplace Hearing Loss
When workers are exposed to noise that exceeds 85 decibels for 8 hours or more, hearing loss can occur. For each increase of 3 decibels over 85, it takes half the amount of time for hearing loss to happen. For instance, a worker exposed to 88 decibels may experience hearing loss in just 4 hours instead of 8 hours. Once noise levels reach or exceed 100 decibels, a worker can suffer hearing loss in just 15 minutes.
Workers employed in construction, mining, shipbuilding, factories, industrial warehouses, automotive industries, and landscaping are especially vulnerable to work-related hearing loss from power tools and equipment:
- Air compressors used in close proximity (within 3 feet) can register 92 decibels, causing hearing loss within 2 hours
- Power drills register 98 decibels, resulting in hearing loss in just 30 minutes
- Chainsaws and other power saws used within a 3-foot distance can register 110 decibels, resulting in permanent hearing loss in just 2 minutes
- Factories and industrial warehouses use various types of equipment that can easily reach 100 or more decibels, damaging hearing in just 15 minutes
Although certain job tasks can’t be accomplished without the use of power tools and equipment, the dangers of hearing loss can be reduced by providing workers with lower-decibel tools and safety equipment such as ear plugs or ear muffs, and limiting work hours in high-decibel environments.
OSHA Hearing Conservation Programs
OSHA requires employers to protect employees in high-decibel work environments. If safety equipment is not sufficient to reduce noise to safe levels, employers can implement hearing conservation programs to protect workers. According to OSHA regulations, a hearing conservation program is required if noise decibel levels reach or exceed 85 decibels for an 8-hour work period.
According to the hearing conservation program requirements, employers must make free audio testing available to all employees. Workers who are exposed to decibel levels of 85 or above must be monitored with testing equipment that checks for hearing loss, and all employees must be shown their test results. Baseline testing must be done within 6 months of a worker’s first exposure to noise, then followed up with annual testing.