Hearing Conservation and Your Responsibility as an Employer
Occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the United States. Approximately 22 million U.S. workers exposed to hazardous noise levels at work, and an additional 9 million exposed to ototoxic chemicals. An estimated $242 million is spent annually on workers’ compensation for hearing loss disability.
What is occupational noise exposure?
Noise, or unwanted noise is one of the most pervasive occupational health problems. Noise-induced hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. Generally, prolonged exposure to high noise levels over a period of time gradually causes permanent damage.
NIOSH recommends removing hazardous noise from the workplace whenever possible and using hearing protectors in those situations where dangerous noise exposures have not yet been controlled or eliminated.
Over the past few decades, much has been learned about the implementation of hearing loss prevention programs. The eight components of a successful hearing loss prevention program include:
- Noise exposure monitoring
- Engineering and administrative controls
- Audiometric evaluation
- Use of hearing protection devices
- Education and motivation
- Record keeping
- Program evaluation
- Program audit
A hearing conservation program requires employers to monitor noise exposure levels in a way that accurately identifies employees exposed to noise at or above 85 decibels (dB) averaged over 8 working hours, or an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).
Noise monitoring should take place whenever changes in production, process, or controls increase noise exposure. The employer must establish and maintain an audiometric testing program. The important elements of the program include baseline audiograms, annual audiograms, training, and follow up procedures.
What is audiometric testing?
Audiometric testing monitors an employee’s hearing over time. It also provides an opportunity for employers to educate employees how to protect their hearing. An employer must establish and maintain baseline audiograms, annual audiograms, training and follow-up procedures, all at no cost to employees who are exposed to an action level of 85 dB or above.
Proper training for employees exposed to TWAs of 85 dB and above should occur at least annually, in the effects of noise; the purpose, advantages, and disadvantages of various types of hearing protectors; the selection, fit, and care of protectors; and the purpose and procedures of audiometric testing.
What types of hearing protection?
All workers exposed to 8-hour TWA noise levels of 85dB or above
- When and what is required for an employer to provide?
- For any period exceeding 6 months from the time they are exposed to 8-hour TWA noise levels of 85dB or above, until they receive their baseline audiogram
- If they are incurred standard threshold shifts that demonstrate they are susceptible to noise
- If they are exposed to noise over the permissible exposure limit of 90 dB over an 8 hour TWA
Employers must provide employees with a selection of at least one variety of hearing plug and one variety of hearing muff.
If you are unsure of whether or not you need to implement a hearing conservation program, please read more information on the OSHA website referenced below or contact your Occupational Health Account Executive toll free at 1-800-779-8046.