Effective Time Management: Onsite Hearing Test

What is noise and how is it defined as an occupational hazard?  Noise is defined as a sound or sounds that are loud, unpleasant and undesired.  Noise is simply any unwanted sound.  It is a byproduct of industrial process such as operating machinery that either damages or destroys the nerves in the inner ear and is often overlooked as a hazardous condition.

Audiometric testing

The first step to combat noise hazard is to determine if it actually exists in the workplace.  This is accomplished by conducting a noise survey.   A noise survey is conducted in areas where noise exposure is likely to be hazardous. Furthermore,a comprehensive noise survey will provide the employer with the information they need to either control hazardous occupational noise exposure or to rest easy knowing that their workplace noise levels are within, below legal requirements that require additional tasks such as audiometric testing.  The only way to demonstrate that a workplace is safe from a noise hazard would be to complete an occupational noise assessment.

By completing workplace noise testing,the employer has taken the first (and largest) step towards reducing the risk to their business that hazardous occupational noise provides.

The remaining portion of this article will be contributed to onsite hearing test.  This hearing test is often referred to as the audiometric test.  The test is a requirement for the employer to incorporate into their business schedule as well as the monitoring program once noise levels have been determined through the noise survey that it does exceed beyond regulatory requirements.

How often does a hearing test need to be conducted?  The answer is once every 2 years or more frequently if employees are exposed to higher levels of hazardous noise.

If, as an employer you issue hearing protection to your employees, then the WHS/OHS Act/Regulations in your state requires an employer to submitted its employees for audiometric testing.

Coordinating employees to participate in audiometric testing can be an exhausting effort when the testing is to be conducted outside the workplace.  Too many factors; such as no transportation, personal schedules after work, etc., hinder on the success of having employees conduct a work assignment off site within a specific time period.  Therefore, onsite hearing testing is an alternative to consider to resolve this problem.

Onsite hearing testing is conducted via a mobile unit of which can be scheduled during operational activities on the day, or multiple days of the testing to minimize any business disruption to the normal work day routine.  Having hearing tests conducted at your work place helps you to minimize interruption to daily work assignments such as production and or construction activities.

As part of providing onsite testing, vendors will include as part of their service a complete summary of test results, an analysis of employees tests (with previous results) and all relevant documentation for the jurisdictional legal authorities. Another huge asset for the employer is that the required education altraining material will also be provided to each employee about hearing loss during their onsite scheduled test.  In other words, the burden of scheduling and conducting employee training is managed at the same time of testing instead of on two separate occasions.

Onsite audiometric testing is an effective time management tool for employers to consider.  It eliminates any concern of the required information and documentation needed for regulatory purposes, for the individuals who conduct the testing are well qualified in the subject matter.

Hierarchy of Controls for Managing Noise Hazards

Effectively managing occupational noise hazard is a daily activity that involves everyone on the worksite.  Regardless if your work environment is in the general industry or construction industry, the principles of managing noise hazards are the same.  Sometimes easy to accomplish, sometimes not so easy.

Prevention of noise as an occupational hazard can be managed in three ways based upon the Hierarchy of Controls (see below).  This article will focus later on personal protective equipment (lease effective method of the hierarchy of controls) since it is the most common approach to mitigation noise hazards in the workplace.

Hierarchy of Controls

Engineering controls means controlling the hazard at the source.  It includes a physical change to the workplace.  Engineering controls is accomplished with installation of proper equipment or re-designing tools and equipment.

Administrative controls are aimed at reducing employees exposure to noise hazards, but they do not remove the hazard.  This control method requires the worker and employer to do something.  Written work procedures and policies is an example of an administrative control.  Another example would include schedule changes such as rotating employees in high noise areas.  Training employees on occupational noise hazards, the consequences of the hazards along with describing the operational controls to minimize or eliminate the hazard would be considered an administrative control.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is commonly known as the  control of ‘last resort’.   This last resort includes workers to wear something to minimize noise hazards to an acceptable level of risk.  Personal protective equipment for noise hazards include inserts, semi-aural earplugs and ear muffs.

All hearing protectors are designed to reduce the intensity (loudness) of noise to the inner ear.

Hearing protection devices are selected according to:

  • Employee comfort
  • Level of noise exposure
  • NRR of device
  • Type of work being performed
  • Environmental condition

Employee may select hearing protection from a variety of suitable hearing protectors provided by employer.

Let’s now talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each.

1)  Ear Muffs

Advantages

  • More protection at higher frequencies than earplugs
  • Various NRRs available
  • Durable, long lasting
  • Can be fitted on hard hat
  • Reusable

Ear Muffs

Disadvantages

  • Higher cost
  • Eye glasses can interfere with ear muff seal
  • May be uncomfortable in hot environments
  • Must be cleaned before use by another worker

2)  Insert Plugs

Advantages

  • More protection at lower frequencies than muffs
  • Various NRRs available
  • Inexpensive; disposable
  • Can be custom molded for individual worker
  • Reusable plugs are available Disadvantages

Insert Plugs

Disadvantages

  • Hands must be cleaned before inserting earplugs
  • Improper insertion reduces noise reduction rating value

3) Semi-Aural (sometimes called ear caps)

Advantages

  • Various NRRs available
  • Easy to insert
  • May be used several times
  • Ideal for people going in and out of noisy areas

Semi-Aural

Disadvantages

  • Improper insertion reduces effectiveness
  • More expensive than ear plugs
  • Typically have lower NRRs than plugs or muffs

In closing, there are important factors about utilizing personal protective equipment to mitigate occupational noise hazards.  First, employers must ensure proper initial fitting of personal protective equipment.  This includes demonstration on how to use inserts, semi-aural earplugs and ear muffs (depending on employer decision of what to supply for workers).  In addition, the employer must supervise the correct use of hearing protectors as well as ensure workers understand how to clean and properly store their hearing protectors and when to replace them.

Sometimes the last resort is often the first resort when it comes to managing occupational noise.  When doing so, it is important for both employer and worker to understand the pros and cons of using personal protective equipment.  Hopefully, this article helped shed light on that.

Controlling Noise Hazards Through Engineering Methods

Controlling noise hazards in the workplace can be a time consuming and expensive endeavor.  However, for the sake of worker safety to prevent hearing loss; temporary or permanent, this endeavor is worthwhile and meaningful.  Think of it this way, would you want your son or daughter, spouse or grandchildren exposed to noise hazards without any engineering means to minimize or even eliminate it?

This article will focus on engineering methods of stamping out unwanted noise in the workplace.

The table below shows a few examples of operational controls to consider for various types of noise emissions from specific equipment assets.

Noise in the workplace

Additional engineering control methods to combat noise hazards include;

  • Sound barriers such as a solid wall that blocks the line of sight between a noise source and the worker.
  • Partial enclosure is a series of walls around a piece of equipment that is producing and introducing a noise hazard in the workplace. The top is left open so sound can travel upward, away from the worker.
  • Total enclosure, with a closed top will provide better noise reduction than the partial enclosure. However, workers usually need access capability for visual observation, access to raw materials, removal of scrap, etc.  Therefore, sealing of doors and windows for worker access purposes can include weather stripping material to prevent leakage of sound from around these locations.
  • Machinery Acoustical Shields may be inserted between the worker and the noise emission source that could include all of the machinery or only a specific portion of it. Often this shield is mounted on the machine and can provide 8 to 10 dB of noise reduction.

In closing, unwanted noise is commonly present at construction and general industry worksites.  With the potential of noise-induced hearing loss and additional health effects such as increased blood pressure, narrowing of blood vessels and quicken pulse rate, applicable engineering controls should be looked at extensively.  Feasible and effective engineering controlled methods should be looked at as the “first line of defense” to protect workers’ from the hazards of occupational noise.

An Introduction to Noise As An Occupational Hazard

Everywhere you are in the workplace, there is noise. Approximately 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise while on the job. Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common occupational hazard for workers. The good news is this occupational hazards is 100% pre-ventable.

Prevention of noise as an occupational hazard can be managed in three ways:

1) Engineer out the hazard.
2) Establish administrative controls such as job rotation of employees in high noise area.
3) Provide personal protective equipment such as earplugs to protect workers from occupational noise.

Specifically speaking, occupational noise is most frequently present above the allowable exposure limits; refer to your local jurisdiction, at construction sites and most general industry workplaces.

What is noise and how is it defined? Noise is defined as a sound or sounds that is, loud, unplea-sant and undesired. Noise is simply any unwanted sound. It is a byproduct of industrial process such as operating machinery that either damages or destroys the nerves in the inner ear.

Noise induced hearing loss occurs from overexposure to loud sound. Noise has the potential of causing both auditory and non-auditory health effects, if not controlled properly. Remember, there is no cure for noise-induced hearing loss. This is why conducting a noise survey is neces-sary at all worksites and should be taken seriously by the employer.

Here are a few examples of noise as an occupational hazard:

  • Temporary hearing loss is due to short term overexposure of noise. Hearing returns when you are away from the noise.

Noise

  • Permanent hearing loss results from exposure to a moderate or high level of noise over a long period of time. This type of hearing loss does not return when you leave the noise area. Per-manent hearing loss is just that, permanent.
  • Another effect of exposure to high noise levels in the workplace as an occupational hazard would be ‘tinnitus’, permanent ringing in the ear. Tinnitus sufferers usually complain of con-stant whistling, squealing, roaring or bussing in one or both ears. Severe tinnitus may disrupt sleep, reduce concentration and cause irritability and even depression.

Hearing loss from noise exposure is usually not noticed because it is gradual. Generally a person loses the ability to hear higher pitches first.

Signs of hearing loss include asking people to speak louder so that you can hear. For example, do you have to increase the volume of the TV or radio so loud that others complain about it? Common sounds may be louder than you think.Below is an example of what I mean.

Our ears can recover from short exposure to loud noise, but over time nerve damage will occur, The longer and louder the noise, the greater chance permanent damage will occur. Have you heard the saying, “Getting use to it?” When it comes to occupational noise, there is no such thing. You do not get use to it.

Below are two photos that show how occupational noise effect hair cells when not managed cor-rectly.

NoiseIn closing, noise is an occupational hazard that must be managed daily to ensure the safety and well being of workers. Hopefully this article provided some insight as to how noise is defined as an occupational hazard along with the consequences when the hazard is not managed correctly.

The Purpose and Scope of a Noise Survey

Did you know that noise induced hearing loss is a common overlooked occupational hazard to workers?  Did you know that hearing loss is slow and painless; you can develop the disability before you notice it?  Did you know that noise induced hearing loss is 100% preventable?

Noise Survey

Everywhere you are, there is noise.  Specifically speaking, occupational noise is most frequently present above the allowable exposure limits; refer to your local jurisdiction, at construction sites and most general industry workplaces.

What is noise?  How is noise defined?  Noise is defined as a sound or sounds that is, loud, unpleasant and undesired.  Noise is a byproduct of industrial process such as operating machinery.  Noise induced hearing loss occurs from overexposure to loud sound.Noise has the potential of causing both auditory and non-auditory health effects, if not controlled properly. Remember, there is no cure for noise-induced hearing loss.  This is why conducting a noise survey is necessary at all worksites and should be taken seriously by the employer.  This article will further discuss the importance of conducting a noise survey and how to conduct one.

Audiometric testing

The first step to protect employee hearing is to determine whether or not noise is a potential problem in your workplace. This is accomplished by conducting a noise survey.  A noise survey can be defined as the exploration and understanding of a noise problem that is in question. .  A noise survey is conducted in areas where noise exposure is likely to be hazardous. Furthermore, noise survey is a process which allows the employer to measure, assess and reduce increased, unexpected levels of noise in the workplace.

During a noise survey, a sketch showing the locations of employees and noisy machines is drawn.  A noise survey involves measuring noise level at selected, specific locations throughout an entire plant.  Or, a noise survey may only select a few area of the plant to identify noisy areas.  The reference to noise level refers to the level of sound.

A noise survey is usually conducted with a sound level meter, also known as (SLM).  If the workplace noise remains steady, noise survey data can be used to determine employee exposures. The use of an SLM, helps produce a noise map of the areas within the workplace.

Noise assessment

Noise level measurements are taken at a suitable number of various positions around the area and are marked on the sketch. The more measurements taken during the survey, the more accurate the survey will be.  A noise map can be on the sketch.  Noise survey maps are extremely useful communication tools by clearly identifying areas where a noise hazard exists.

There are five general objectives of the occupational workplace noise survey.  They are as follows:

  1. Identify all significant noise sources and employees likely to be exposed to noise above specified levels (noise exposure standards);
  2. Obtain information on noise sources and work practices that will help the employer decide what measures are to be taken to reduce noise levels in the workplace;
  3. Validate the effectiveness of measures taken by the employer to reduce unwanted noise exposure.  Establish a baseline of assessment results and determine a schedule for future noise assessments to be conducted.The reassessment schedule will be determined by jurisdictional requirements or as described in the employer hearing protection program. Also, it is important to note that a reassessment is to be conducted whenever the following changes occur at the worksite;
  • Installation of new equipment.
  • Removal of existing equipment in the workplace.
  • A change in equipment operating conditions likely to cause a significant change in noise levels, such as increase in equipment speed.
  • A reconfiguration of the building structure that is likely to affect noise levels in a negative way such as taking down a wall that separated equipment operation with non- equipment operation area.
  • Modification of employee working assignments affecting the length of time the employees would spend in noisy workplaces.
  1. Establish hearing protection areas within the workplace. This could include a noise map of the designated areas within the workplace;
  2. Develop a priority assessment to eliminate or reduce sound levels that contribute significantly to the overall daily exposure.

Types of common noise sources in the workplace that the noise survey will identify include:

  • Electric Motors – Air turbulence around intake for cooling fan and mechanical vibration.
  • Pipelines and valves – Vibration from fixed equipment.
  • Equipment Housing – Vibration by transmission of equipment.
  • Stationary power tools– Noisy activities on construction sites include the use of jackhammers, dump trucks, cement mixers, cement cutters, electric saws.
  • Welding and Grinding activities – Grinding noise has been recorded at 103dB, at 5m from the activity.

A noise surveymay be simple or quite complex to conduct.  The difference between simple and complexity depends on the type of workplace, the number of employees, the number and types of equipment as well as information that may already be available, if any, regarding workplace noise exposure levels.

After determining employee exposure to noise, intervention may be needed to reduce noise exposures to the acceptable, allowable levels as described by local jurisdiction.  There are three ways to reduce unacceptable noise exposure, which are in the order of preference:

  • Engineering Controls that reduce noise at the source. Another example of an engineering control method is to reduce reverberation and structural vibration.

When engineering controls are not feasible to reduce noise exposures, administrative controls and PPE should be effectively implemented.

  • Administrative Controls such as employee rotation in high noise areas, report noisy equipment to supervision and place noise specifications on operating equipment.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as hearing protectors such as earplugs or ear muffs.

In conclusion, take control of the noise hazards that are present in your workplace.  Understanding and taking control of your noise monitoring strategy is the only way to ensure that you protect the future hearing capabilities of your employees.  Conduct a noise survey, establish the objectives of a hearing protection program and set the parameters so that the data collected and calculated by the noise surveywill help establish a safer workplace for your employees.

If it is determined that employees within the organisation are exposed to hazardous levels of noise and the organisation issues hearing protection to its employees, then it is mandatory for the employers to submit its employees to undergo hearing test at least once every 2 years.