National Hearing Awareness Month aims to remind businesses and individuals how to prevent hearing loss by avoiding loud noises or using hearing protection equipment. Companies should test the sound levels in the workplace while mitigating potential hazards before choosing safety gear. Earmuffs and earplugs should fit properly to prevent loud sounds from reaching the ear drum.
October is known as National Protect Your Hearing Month in the U.S. The event is designed to increase public awareness around hearing loss and the factors and hazards that contribute to it. Exposure to loud noises leads to permanent hearing loss and conditions like tinnitus, which decreases a person's quality of life. The condition affects their communication ability, often causing them to miss essential words or sounds.
Many people live with partial hearing loss without realizing it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some 40 million adults between the ages of 20 and 69 have noise-induced hearing loss, and roughly 1 in 4 adults who report "excellent to good" hearing already have hearing damage. The effects are cumulative and irreversible, so it's essential to either avoid loud noises or wear the proper hearing protection.
Workers in various industries regularly encounter loud noises on the job. Power tools, manufacturing equipment, drops, and collisions can produce sounds loud enough to damage a person's hearing. Use this October Hearing Awareness Month guide to protect your staff and loved ones from noise pollution and other sound hazards that can impact workers’ hearing.
Learn the Requirements
Companies are required to provide a safe work environment for their employees, which means protecting their hearing. According to the OSHA's Hearing Conservation Standard (29 CFR 1910.95), workers must have access to hearing protection equipment, such as earplugs or earmuffs, when exposed to sounds at or above 85 decibels (dB) over an eight-hour time-weighted average. The crew must use double hearing protection when the level exceeds 100 dB over an eight-hour TWA.
For reference, a typical conversation takes place at 60 dB while the pop of an engine is around 95 dB. Anything over 70 dB reduces your hearing over long periods. Meanwhile, noises above 125 dB damage your hearing after a few seconds.
Hearing loss awareness is for more than just workers. Sound pollution is a common hazard across the U.S. Sporting events, concerts, and public demonstrations often contain noise exceeding 85 dB. Anyone looking to protect their hearing can use the OSHA guidelines as a reference. Listening to music with the volume on high, mowing your lawn, riding in a convertible at certain speeds, or simply walking by a loud construction site can damage a person's hearing. Everyone should protect their hearing regardless of what they do for a living.
Test the Noise Levels
Use a sound meter to test the sound level of your environment. Keep track of the noise level throughout the shift to calculate the time-weighted average.
Mitigate Existing and Potential Hazards
Remove or limit the noise before using hearing protection equipment. If the TWA is above 85 dB, look for ways to reduce the amount of ambient sound in the workplace. This may include using quieter equipment, installing sound barriers, or moving workers away from the noise source. Learn how to reduce workplace noise to reduce the risk of hearing loss.
Some of the loudest noises happen by accident. Take steps to prevent unexpected hazards. Increase visibility in the workspace to reduce collisions and accidents. Make sure items are secured or properly stored away so they don't fall. Carefully transport heavy objects and parts made of metal to reduce unnecessary noise.
Use the Proper Hearing Protection Equipment
If the noise can't be avoided or reduced, everyone must wear hearing protection equipment. These items should come with a noise reduction rating (NRR), which shows how many decibels of ambient sound will be reduced. The NRR should keep the noise level in a safe range. If the NRR doesn't keep the noise level below 85 dBs over an eight-hour TWA, the crew must double up on hearing protection by wearing earplugs underneath their protective earmuffs.
Earmuffs and earplugs both protect against loud noises. Choosing between the two depends on personal preference and practical considerations. Suppose the crew needs to wear safety equipment that interferes with earmuffs, such as a hard hat, goggles, or respirator; they should wear earplugs for working environments underneath these items or earmuffs that connect around the back of the head. Some workers may have sensitive ears that prevent them from inserting earplugs into the ear canal.
The equipment must create a proper seal to prevent loud sounds from slipping through. Earmuffs should wrap around the ear and be tight enough to keep them firmly in place without pressing against the head. Earplugs fit into the ear canal. The plastic or foam will conform to the shape of the person's ears when properly inserted.
Conduct a hearing test to ensure your workers use these items correctly. Expose them to a sound within the NRR to see if they can hear it.
Earplugs can be either disposable or reusable. Disposable earplugs don't retain their original shape after more than one use, which prevents them from making a proper seal. Reusable plugs maintain their shape to stop loud sounds from reaching the ear drum. Clean your reusable earplugs before and after each shift to reduce the spread of debris, wax buildup, and bacteria that could lead to an ear infection.
Hearing protection equipment is for all ages. Learn how to find the right earmuffs and plugs for kids.
Train Your Workers to Protect Their Hearing
Everyone on site should understand the risks of being exposed to loud noises. Conduct training sessions and exercises to show the staff how to spot and respond to potential sound hazards. Create a robust hearing conservation program and document the results of your efforts. Those exposed to loud noises on the job should take regular hearing tests to see if the job is taking a toll. Employers can consider conducting hearing screening tests for new employees as a defensive way to prevent later claims of work-induced hearing loss issues. Report incidents of hearing loss and noises that exceed the allotted threshold to learn how to prevent them.
Wearing the wrong equipment or wearing it in the wrong place can give workers a false sense of security even though they are still at risk of losing their hearing. Teach your workers how to insert earplugs to ensure they are fully in place. Post this information around the worksite and encourage your workers to look out for one another on the job.
There is no cure for hearing loss. Workers and individuals need to protect themselves from loud noises by using earplugs/earmuffs or avoiding them altogether. Use this information to celebrate National Protect Your Hearing Month and promote your efforts on social media with the hashtag #NPYHM!
Not sure which hearing protection would best suit your job? Our PK Safety Experts are here to help. Contact us online or call 855.491.7249.