OSHA Hearing Protection Guidelines

By Clarion Safety Systems | 22nd Oct 2020

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Whether they’re too loud or last too long, sounds can be detrimental to the ears. Hearing loss is a major concern at many work sites across all different types of industries. Occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. According to recent statistics, about 22 million workers face dangerous sound levels at work each year. Here to help today’s equipment manufacturers and workplaces are educational resources, guidelines and regulations from OSHA, supported by research efforts from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In line with October being National Protect Your Hearing Month, read about guidelines in place to prevent noise-induced hearing loss and ways to safeguard against it in the workplace. 

Guidelines for Noise Exposure
Sounds and noises affect people differently, and there are many different types of noise. Pertinent characteristics of sound include these three different qualities:

  1. Sound pressure or decibel level
  2. Frequency or hertz level
  3. Duration

These factors considered together give a good idea of the overall extent that a worker might be impacted by noise. Several guidelines have been established for OSHA noise exposure limits. These limits have also been endorsed by NIOSH. Workers subject to 85 decibels of sound on average during an eight-hour workday must receive some form of hearing protection or mitigation from their employer. That is, action must be taken to remedy the situation. This often takes two forms, at least in the beginning: an active program to monitor and measure the noise, and the availability of hearing tests for workers. If the workplace noise level reaches or exceeds 90 decibels than the noise level must be reduced through engineering adjustments or some other form of noise control. If this approach does not work then workers must be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce noise.

For workplaces that reach or exceed these levels, a training program must be initiated for workers. Participation is required and the program must be repeated annually. The courses must teach employees the following information:

  • The effects of noise on hearing
  • The purpose of personal protective equipment for hearing mitigation
  • The advantages and disadvantages of types of PPE
  • The methods of selection, fitting, use and care of PPE
  • The explanation of testing for hearing

If conditions require it, testing is required on workers every year, to determine if hearing loss has occurred over time. This is known as audiometric testing.

Hearing Protection Practices
Engineering innovations and controls have the ability to reduce noise in the workplace. These adjustments can take on many forms, depending on the work environment and the source of the noise. For example, a loud motor could be modified or enclosed in housing that reduces noise. Loud vehicles could be fitted with better mufflers. Machines could be turned off at certain times to reduce the average decibel level over an eight-hour day. When this fails to achieve the desired reductions, workers can wear PPE. The most common form of ear protection on the job is either ear plugs or ear muffs, which can be worn together for added protection. For these to be effective, they must be worn correctly and frequently.

The use of standards compliant PPE equipment labels and reinforcement signs is an effective way to alert people of noise-related safety hazards. Not only do they highlight risks, they help workers combat noise exposure by reminding them to take required action, like wearing ear PPE. Reinforcement safety visuals are mandatory and a company that does not comply could face fines from OSHA and other agencies. Signs should be made of durable materials so they don't wear out quickly and become illegible. Labels and signs can also be custom-designed to be more effective.

Steps to Safeguard Hearing
For National Protect Your Hearing Month, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) recommends taking the following steps to practice safe listening habits:

  1. Lower the volume level
  2. Move away from the noisy area
  3. Wear protective hearing equipment

The NIDCD urges workers to wear earplugs or protective earmuffs to prevent hearing damage as they help limit the level of sound exposure. Earplugs, whether disposable or reusable, fit snuggly into the ear canal and reduce harmful noise. Earmuffs reduce noise by covering both ears completely and are often easier to wear then earplugs. It’s best to use ear PPE that’s both comfortable and practical for the task at hand.

Combatting Hearing Loss With Effective Safety Visuals
While many workplaces and types of equipment pose dangers to hearing, using industry leading safety visuals on equipment and in facilities helps prevent ear and hearing damage and keeps companies in compliance. Get in touch with us to discuss how we can help support your use of effective safety labels, signs and tags.