"Hearing conservation" is a broad term used to describe
all aspects of preventing hearing loss due to noise. The primary
locations for hearing conservation programs are in heavy industry,
such as stamping or printing, and the military. There is also a
movement now in the music and recreational areas to prevent noise-induced
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that each
day, approximately 5.2 million workers in American industries are
exposed to excessive or near-excessive noise levels in the workplace
100 percent of the permissible exposure level (PEL) of 90
dBA during a continuous eight hour period.
OSHA's Occupational Noise Standard
(29 CFR 1910.95) and Hearing Conservation Amendment establish permissible
exposure levels, and require employers to reduce employees' exposure
to those levels with adequate engineering and administrative controls
or appropriate hearing protection. These regulations require companies
to implement an ongoing, effective hearing conservation program
for all workers exposed to noise at or above the established "action
level" (50% of the PEL).
Occupational hearing conservation
Qualified professionals can measure noise levels and averages of
noise levels throughout a work period using sound level meters and
noise dosimetry. If the meters indicate the worksite is too noisy,
there are two basic options. The first option is to reduce the overall
noise to acceptable levels, and the other is to implement a hearing
conservation program. This program could mean merely limiting the
time employees work in the noisy environment (administrative controls)
or doing a full-scale program. Typically the full program is the
most practical route.
What is included in an effective program?
Three primary components make up an effective program, according
- First there must be education and training of
the employees about the effects of noise on hearing, and the importance
and benefits of using hearing protection.
- An initial, or baseline, hearing test must be
performed on each employee working in a noise hazardous area.
New employees must be tested within a certain time frame, and
exiting employees (when practical) need exit hearing tests.
- The last major component is fitting each employee in the program
with hearing protection appropriate for his or her
Monitoring noise levels and keeping records to document the program
should also be included.
Why should I have a hearing conservation program?
In addition to meeting OSHA regulations and protecting employees'
hearing, occupational hearing conservation programs can save your
company money. Employees who are not protected from hazardous noise
have a strong case to sue and win just as any other
job-related disability. If an employee claims a hearing loss, hearing
program and test records can indicate whether the hearing loss occurred
before, during, or after working at your company. This is also why
an exit hearing test is important.
Won't this be expensive and take a lot of time?
Expense is relative. Hearing conservation needs to be considered
a cost of doing business sort of an "insurance policy."
And really, it isn't expensive at all. Depending on the number of
employees and organization of supervisors, most companies can have
everyone tested in a matter of one to two days, working all shifts
to maximize attendance regardless of work schedules. Each test takes
only a few minutes so it's a very minor interruption in the workday.
Health First Occupational Medicine understands it's important to
minimize an employee's time away from work, so we schedule appointments
to process people quickly.
Various surveys conducted over the past 20 years indicate that
up to 40 percent of Americans employed in manufacturing facilities
are exposed to potentially hazardous noise (85 dBA time-weighted
averages or above). Today, noise-induced hearing loss is one of
the most prevalent occupational diseases and injuries identified
by National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Improved worker productivity and decreased noise-related accidents
must be considered when analyzing the hearing conservation standard
from a cost-benefit perspective. In addition, cost savings are related
to decreased workers' compensation awards, hearing aid costs, hearing
testing and rehabilitation. Let Health First Occupational Medicine
save you money.