Some dangers in the workplace are obvious. Large machinery, moving parts, and vehicles all involve some risk to workers. But, not all threats are so obvious.
October is National Protect Your Hearing Month and, believe it or not; your hearing may be in more danger at work than anywhere else. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to potentially dangerous noise levels each year. Exposure does not always mean that hearing loss will occur, especially if the employer takes the proper precautions. The trick is to know what dangers exist and to address them before there is a problem.
Here are five workplace issues that can put your workers at risk of hearing loss on the job site.
1) You Don’t Know Your Noise Levels.
You know that specific machines in your building are loud. Very loud. But how loud are they, and do they pose a risk to your employees hearing? The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that all worker exposure to noise levels should be measurable at 85 decibels or less for the duration of an eight-hour shift.
That’s comparable to the noise of a dishwasher or garbage disposal. Tolerable, but not what you want to deal with for eight or more hours straight.
You can find simple noise meters to measure your workplace’s noise levels or even get a phone app that can do in a pinch. Your best bet, though, is to get a dedicated decibel meter for your problem areas. The meter will provide a digital display of the decibels in that area at any given time for anyone to see.
2) Employees Can’t Find Proper Ear Protection.
Anything over that 85 dBa mark requires ear protection for your workers. Do they have it available? Don’t make it hard to find. Simple foam earplugs can do the trick, and they’re not expensive. Keep them on hand and easy to find for your workers, especially in those high-noise areas.
For jobs that require being around extra-loud noise levels for extended periods, it is wise to invest in noise-canceling headphones or earmuffs rather than just earplugs. They provide better overall protection.
3) Danger Areas Are Not Marked.
It’s not enough to know where your noise danger areas are and to have a decibel meter. Not everyone who comes near that area will know what those numbers mean. Especially if the noise is not constant, it could be easy for someone, whether it is a worker or a visitor, to enter the area, not knowing that intense noise could accost them at any moment.
Clearly mark areas close to machines or other sources of excessive noise. Signs should announce the site as a high or dangerous noise area and let everyone know that they must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.
4) Employees Don’t Know How Close is Too Close.
Sound travels, but as it moves, it also diminishes in intensity. Just like the waves caused by a rock tossed into a pond will lessen in power as they travel away from the source, sound waves weaken as they spread out and away from their source. So, when you have a high-noise area at work, how close is too close?
Like you want to have signs marking the high noise area, you need to have clearly marked boundaries. Adding signs or floor tape or other boundary notices will let your employees know where the danger area begins, and they need to put on their PPE. Use a decibel meter to gauge your safe and danger zones.
5) A Bilingual Workplace Creates Communication Problems
Having your danger zones marked doesn’t do a lot of good if some of your employees can’t read the signs. Having a bilingual workplace is great for diversity and culture, but it can cause communication issues that can, at times, be hazardous.
The solution is simple. When considering signage and marking for your danger areas at work, consider buying bilingual signs. You want to make your safety messages as easy as possible for everyone in your workplace to understand.
The Effects of Hearing Loss Can be Life-Changing
Work-related hearing loss isn’t something to be shrugged off as something that just happens over time. There’s no need for it to happen at all. If you can’t reduce noise levels, other measures should be taken to protect employees, such as reducing the amount of time they are exposed or simply providing PPE.
Some facts from the hearinghealthfoundation.org to consider:
Make use of National Protect Your Hearing Month in October to evaluate your workplace for noise levels and hearing safety. Not only can you protect your business from damaging lawsuits, but you also protect your employees and their quality of living.
OSHA Caution Industrial Decibel Meter Signs continually measure and display a decibel level to alert workers of the need for ear protection when sound levels are elevated and become a hazard.
Lockout tagout is a safety procedure that ensures machines and equipment are properly shut off during maintenance or repair work.