Ensuring the protection of each employee’s own hearing capability and sustainability to hearing quality, employer’s need to understand if the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) being provided is able to do so. Even though employers are required to provide hearing testing on a periodic basis for employees who are exposed above acceptable occupational noise thresholds, it the responsibility of the employer to prepare their employees for a successful hearing test result.
Properly selecting hearing protectors must be based on comfort, accessibility and compatibility.
Employees will not use hearing protectors that are uncomfortable, not easy to access, difficult to use or interfere with their assigned work task. To ensure they will wear the hearing protectors, involve employees in the selection process and experiment with different types.
Most hearing protectors are labeled with SLC80 [Sound Level Conversion] label. What does SLC80 mean? It is an estimate of the amount of protection attained by 80% of users, based upon laboratory testing. Depending on the level of attenuation in the SLC rating, a classification is assigned to a protector: a Class 1 protector may be used in noise up to 90 dB, a Class 2 protector to 95 dB, a Class 3 protector to 100 dB, and so on in 5 dB increments. Packaging will often show the SLC80, followed by the classification (i.e. SLC80 27, Class 5).
Understanding SLC80 classifications and ensuring the correct hearing protector is adequately comparable to the noise hazard is essential to employee’s hearing health as well as for the cost of employers doing business.
The average direct cost for a noise related Workers Compensation claim is $9000. Indirect costs associated with the claim are conservatively estimated at $35,000. That’s a $42,000 loss for your business per occupational noise claim!
By providing proper hearing protectors for employees and conducting training on proper use, limitations, maintenance, storage and areas where they are mandatory, is a great start of providing education to workers to ensure their own hearing safety. Add periodic observation audits and ongoing refresher training to the mix will drastically improve a positive hearing test result.
Below are a few additional tips and reminders for preventing hearing loss due to working in the work environment:
- Use ear protection equipment such as ear muffs or ear plugs if you work in a noisy environment. It’s important to insert ear plugs correctly to gain the benefit of wearing them.
- Don’t insert objects such as cotton buds, cotton wool and tissue into your ears.
- Be aware of the symptoms of common causes of hearing loss.
- Make sure employees, contractors and visitors are aware of the hearing protection policy through continuous reinforcement of it through training, postings and observations.
- Enforce hearing protection policy.
- Conduct hearing testing for newly installed equipment, every 2 years, or more frequently if your employees are exposed to higher levels of hazardous noise.
- Promote an “Off The Job” safety program promoting safety and health tips for employees at home and recreation activities.