An effective hearing conservation program can prevent hearing loss, improve employee morale and their general feeling of well-being, increase quality of production, and reduce the incidence of stress-related disease. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that an employer should administer a hearing conservation program whenever employee noise exposures are at or above an eight hour time-weighted average (TWA) of 85 dBA. This is referred to as the action level.
Some general indications of a noise problem at a workplace include: (1) There are areas where you must raise your voice in order to be heard? (2) Noise levels are as loud or Iouder than heavy traffic? (3) Workers complain of ringing in the ears, dull hearing, headache, or lack of concentration or irritability during or after work? (4) Long-term workers seem to have difficulty hearing? If these indications exist, or you know there is excessive noise, then a hearing conservation program should be implemented.
An effective hearing conservation program consists of four parts – Part One – Monitoring Program; Part Two – Hearing Protection Devices; Part Three – Employee Training and Education; and Part Four – Recordkeeping. This Handout provides information on establishing a monitoring program.
A noise sampling strategy should be designed to identify all employees for inclusion in the hearing conservation program, and enable the proper selection of hearing protectors.
For purposes of the hearing conservation program, employee noise exposures should be computed without regard to any attenuation provided by the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Either personal or area noise monitoring may be used. The noise monitoring requirement is performance-based, as it allows employers to choose a monitoring method that best suits each individual work situation.
If there are circumstances that may make area monitoring generally inappropriate,(e.g., high worker mobility, significant variations in sound level, or a significant component of impulse noise) then the employer should use representative personal sampling unless it can be shown that area sampling produces equivalent results.
Noise measurements should integrate all continuous, intermittent, and impulsive noise levels from 80 to 130 dBA.
Noise monitoring should be repeated whenever a change in production, process, equipment, or controls increases noise exposures to the extent that additional employees may be exposed at or above the action level or the attenuation provided by PPE.
The employer should notify each employee who is exposed at or above the action level of the results of the monitoring.
The employer should provide affected employees or their representatives with an opportunity to observe noise monitoring procedures.
It should be noted that employees with a diminished capacity to hear cannot satisfy the requirement to wear hearing protection simply by turning off their hearing aids when working in a high noise area. Hearing aids are not hearing protectors. Employees should actually leave their hearing aids on and wear ear muffs with sufficient attenuation to reduce all workplace noise below the action level. While employees need to be protected from excess noise, they should also be able to hear any machine noises or warning signals necessary for safety. Even employees, who have been diagnosed with severe or profound deafness, may still hear some noise and need to be protected from additional hearing loss.
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