When one thinks of workplace injuries, everything from falls to repetitive stress injuries may come to mind. But one common industrial injury is often overlooked. Hearing loss caused by excessive noise is a real issue for many industries in Michigan. But are there steps employers can take to help reduce this problem?
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, workers should not be exposed to sounds louder than 85 decibels for more than eight hours since that could potentially lead to hearing loss. NIOSH believes that companies can reduce the level of noise at their facilities by following a hierarchy of control. A hierarchy of control is basically a system that tries to eliminate a safety issue by using the most effective methods to address the problem first and then, if this is unsuccessful or infeasible, using a combination of other less effective methods until the situation is resolved.
For excessive noise, the most effective step in the hierarchy of control is eliminating the source of the problem. However, this basically means that the source of the hazard must be removed which may not be possible. Therefore the next step in the hierarchy is to substitute quieter equipment for noisier items. Using quieter power tools is a good example of substitution.
The next method of noise reduction is engineering controls. These can include workplace changes such as equipment redesign in order to reduce the source of the problem or building barriers to keep the noise away from the employees. Administrative controls are the next method of control that can protect the hearing of workers. This means that the company actually changes the way their employees work in order to protect their hearing.
The final method for controlling hearing loss is giving workers personal protective equipment that includes ear plugs and other protective gear. The major drawback to PPE is that it is less effective than any of the other methods because it places the onus of action on the worker. But it is possible to have effective noise control through a combination of methods such as PPEs, substitution and engineering controls.
Source: www.cdc.gov, “Controls for noise exposure“, Accessed June 15, 2015