[Editor’s note: This article was submitted to NGFA by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.]
Every year thousands of workers suffer from preventable hearing loss due to high workplace noise levels. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise every working day.
In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS) reported that hearing loss for all industries nationwide was 1.4 per 10,000 full time workers. Hearing loss continues to be the most commonly recorded occupational illness in manufacturing, according to BLS.
In an effort to raise employer and employee awareness, reduce and prevent exposures to high levels of occupational noise, Region II of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established a Regional Emphasis Program (REP) on Noise Hazards. This REP targets 35 North American Industrial Classification System (NACIS) codes and is effective in the states of New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico (limited to sites under federal jurisdiction), and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This emphasis program consists of two elements; outreach and inspection targeting. The outreach component of the program began on Oct. 1, 2019 and the inspection targeting program will begin after Jan. 1, 2020. A copy of the REP can be found at https://www.osha.gov/enforcement/directives/lep.
How do you know if you might be exposed to high levels of occupational noise?
Did you know that if you need to raise your voice to speak to someone three feet away, hear ringing or humming in your ears when you leave work, have to shout to be heard by a coworker an arm’s length away and/or experience temporary hearing loss when leaving work, you might be exposed to high noise levels above 85 decibels? If you notice any of these conditions in your workplace, noise sampling using sound level meters or dosimeters should be initiated to determine the noise level. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Sound Level Meter App is one tool available to the public to download on mobile iOS devices that measures sound levels in the workplace and provides noise exposure parameters to help reduce occupational noise-induced hearing loss.
Once you understand your noise exposure levels, you can take steps to prevent exposures including establishing a hearing conservation program, instituting engineering and administrative controls. If you are unsure of how to implement a hearing conservation program or institute controls, there are many resources that can be useful to employers. One such resource available on the OSHA website is the Safety and Health Topics page on Occupational Noise Exposure, which can be found at: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/index.html.
Another excellent resource is the onsite consultation program which is available in every state. This program is free and confidential to employers. There are no fines or penalties for using these services. However, if serious hazards are identified, you are expected to correct them. You can access these services at: https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/smallbusiness/consult.html.