Hearing Conservation

Hearing loss from noise can occur with no symptoms and no warnings of any kind. Its progress is so slow and sneaky that you hardly notice it because you simply adjust as sound reception becomes fainter.

People who work around noise and don’t wear hearing protection probably don’t realize what is happening to their hearing. Most people are unaware that everyday noises such as lawn mowers and machinery have an effect on hearing. Since the damage accumulates over many years, it’s often too late to prevent or reverse what has already been done.

Exposure to a large amount of sound will cause a person’s hearing to worsen temporarily. For most people, resting and avoiding loud noises returns their hearing to its normal level. Hearing loss occurs when a person is continually surrounded by loud noises and takes no precautions so that damage becomes permanent.

Every person will experience some amount of natural hearing loss as they age. Simple steps such as lowering the volume on your TV or stereo can keep hearing loss to a minimum.

Prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause permanent hearing loss, but noise can be reduced before it ever reaches the eardrum by earplugs or ear muffs (most cost-effective), or by using noise dampening materials around machinery. If ear protection is necessary for a job or certain work function, the employer (municipality) is required to have it available and require its use by employees.

5 Excuses for not wearing proper hearing protection:

  • “I can’t hear other workers.” – At high noise levels, hearing becomes overloaded. Reducing overall sound levels allows the ear to operate more effectively in much the same way sunglasses provide improved vision in bright light, high-glare conditions.

  • “My machine sounds different.” – The sound of a machine will sound different to workers wearing hearing protection, but they will become accustomed to the new sound and will be able to monitor the sound of machines as well at the end of the day as at the start of the shift.

  • “I’m used to noise.” – Exposure to noise does not toughen ears. Ears do not become used to noise - workers become deaf.

  • “Protectors are uncomfortable.” – Like new shoes or glasses, new hearing protectors need a period of adjustment. If discomfort persists, the device should be exchanged for a different size or type that will fit more comfortably.

  • “I’ve already lost some of my hearing; why should I wear hearing protection now?” – Just because you lost some hearing doesn’t mean you’re protected from losing more or all of it. Initially, hearing is damaged at higher frequencies, but as unprotected exposures continue, the damage will spread to the lower frequencies, eventually affecting your understanding of speech. Although hearing protection devices cannot restore a noise-induced hearing loss, they can prevent additional losses from occurring.

It is important to remember, once hearing protection is put on it needs to be monitored. Hearing protection can loosen or be jostled out of position and needs to be readjusted from time to time to be most effective.

It is best to identify tools, machines, and areas where hearing protection must be worn, and have the appropriate types of hearing protection for the type of work.  Train your workers and have appropriate policies and procedures in writing and in place. Supervisors must monitor workers who are in areas where hearing protection is required and hold them to the policies.

Don’t play it by ear. When the job calls for hearing protection, use it!

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Noise Hazards

Public Works has many different hazards workers need to be aware of and the municipality must have procedures to ensure workers are protected.  One issue to consider is Noise Hazards.  Print the brochure below to share with your employees who may work around these hazards.

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Hearing Protection - "What Did You Say?"

Hearing Protection - "What Did You Say?"

“Blindness separates us from things but deafness separates us from people.” – Helen Keller

Human beings are social creatures: we drive in packs on the highway, we constantly use social media and we enjoy family and friend get-togethers.  A major part of our ability to socialize involves our ability to hear and communicate.  We all have someone in our family, or know of someone, that has difficulty hearing or diagnosed hearing loss.  We start a conversation with them but soon tire of repeating ourselves and eventually we avoid speaking to them altogether.

Approximately 15% of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69, or 26 million Americans, have hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to noise at work or in leisure activities. The best prevention approaches for high noise levels are: remove the noise, remove the worker and then protect the worker by using Hearing Protection Devices (HPD). HPD are a type of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) worn to reduce (not eliminate) the level of sound entering the ear. PPE is the last line of prevention for a hazard; however, for most situations, HPD are the main defense against Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).

When should you wear HPD:
    If the noise is measured at 85dB and above
    If you must raise your voice for a person 2-3 feet away to hear you
    If, after leaving the noise area, sounds are “dull, flat or muffled”
    If your ears “ring” after exposure to noise

It’s a good idea to wear HPD with these types of equipment:
    Lawn Mowers and Weedeaters
    Gas Powered Demolition Saws
    Pneumatic Impact Tools

Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR) are required to be printed on all HPD, to aid the wearer in selecting the correct protection for a situation.  The NRR value provides information on the measured reduction of noise in a laboratory setting.  In real world protection, NRR values are overestimated; as such, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends derating HPDs to provide the user a more accurate NRR value in real world situations. NIOSH suggests derating ear muffs by 25%, foam plugs by 50% and molded flanged plugs by 70%.  For example, if you have a pair of foam ear plugs with a NRR=30dB, derating by 50% results in an estimated noise reduction of 15dB.  It should be noted that derating is still only a rough guide and actual protection can vary.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss can be prevented by using the correct hearing protection for your situation and wearing it properly. Failing to use HPD or using it incorrectly, even during short exposures, can have negative consequences; and once noise-induced hearing loss occurs, it cannot be cured or reversed.

The decisions we make today will affect our quality of life on down the line.  It may be easy to convince yourself that everything is okay: “I will only be using the equipment for an hour,” “My ears only ring for a little while after work,” and “It’s part of the job.”  This kind of shortcut is a bad idea in the long run.  Make the right choice and wear your hearing protection.

For more information on Noise Induced Hearing Loss or Proper Use of Hearing Protection Devices please check out OSHA.gov, use the OSHA quick-card at https://www.osha.gov/Publications/3498noise-in-construction-pocket-guide.pdf

Stay tuned to OMAG’s YouTube channel for a video on Hearing Protection soon.

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