OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ensures employers are providing the safest workplace for their employees. OSHA standards are a list of rules describing the practices employers must place to keep workers safe and away from hazards.
Working in loud environments every day without proper protection can severely damage your hearing. OSHA has put standards in place for employers to follow that protect the hearing of their employees. Did you know that 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to noise levels that cause irreversible hearing loss? (NIOSH, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).
If you hear ringing or humming in your ears when you leave work, have to raise your voice or shout when communicating with a coworker who is close to you or experience temporary hearing loss after leaving work, noise may be a problem in your workplace. NIOSH, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has created a Sound Level Meter App available to use on iOS devices. The app measures the sound levels in your workplace and provides exposure parameters that ultimately help you reduce hearing loss.
What can I expect from an OSHA Safety and Health Official (CSHO)?
An occupational health and safety specialist can stop by at any time and without notice. They may also conduct phone or email investigations too. These specialists observe and analyze work environments and procedures to ensure your workplace is safe for your employees. Industries like construction, oil and gas, health care, maritime and any other hazardous work environments you may have encountered an OSHA specialist before.
A Health and Safety Specialist is to identify hazards in the workplace, collect samples of toxic material and analyze it, inspect work environments, equipment and practices, design workplace processes to help protect workers in hazardous work conditions, and conduct training for emergency preparedness and various other topics.
During a specialist visit to a workplace, they conduct a walk-around inspection. The purpose of this inspection is to identify any safety and health hazards that are in your work environment. They’re looking to find anything dangerous that can potentially harm your employees. An interview may occur between the CSHO and employees to allow them an opportunity to state any hazardous conditions they have seen or have occurred. Photographs and samples may be taken to further the examination.
If this CSHO has found your work environment is not following OSHA standards or you fail to alert a workplace injury, you may be subject to a citation, fine or penalty. If this occurs, the fines or citations will not be issued immediately.
Notice: It is your responsibility as an employer to contact OSHA within 8 hours in the case of an employee fatality or an incident where 3 or more employees are hospitalized.
What can I do as an employer?
Employer's number one concern should be the safety of their employees. With hearing loss being a rising concern among workplaces with loud noises, proper hearing protection devices must be worn. Remember, hearing loss is irreversible.
OSHA standard number 1910.95 titled Occupational Noise Exposure states “the employer shall administrator a continuing, effective hearing conservation program... whenever employee noise exposures equal or exceed an 8-hour time-weighted average sound level of 85 decibels."
The standard shows three ways in which an employer can reduce noise exposure at work. These include engineering controls, administrative controls, or hearing protection devices.
- Engineering controls: Modifying or replacing equipment to limit exposure of noise to the worker's ear. Enclose or isolate the noise source, place barriers between the noise source and employee, and choose low noise tools and machinery.
- Administrative controls: These are changes made in the workplace that reduce exposure to noise. This includes operating noisy machines during shifts with fewer people exposed, limiting the amount of time a person spends working with loud machinery and controlling noise exposure through keeping a distance away from noisy equipment.
- Hearing protection devices: Requiring employees to wear protective earplugs or earmuffs. This also suggests maintaining a worker audiometric test which evaluates individual workers hearing. Employers can also implement follow up procedures for workers who have shown loss of hearing.
Any employee that works an average of 8 hours and is above a sound level of 85 decibels must wear proper hearing protectors that suppress the amount of noise. OSHA also requires audiometric tests to be performed to determine the measure of sound intensities and pitch involving different frequencies.
Available Hearing Protection Devices
Industries that are mostly affected by hearing loss are sports venues, airport personnel, construction, manufacturing, mining and any other industries that are around loud noise for long periods of time. When using hearing protection devices, they must suppress noise exposure to an 8-hour time-weighted average of 90 decibels to meet the OSHA standard. 3M Peltor has designed several hearing protective headsets for employees that protect their hearing from any loud noise they may encounter during a workday.
Not wearing proper hearing protection shouldn’t be an issue if using a radio to communicate. Many of the headsets featured below have comm capabilities that combine radio communication and hearing protection in one.
- Airport Personnel
- Construction/ Manufacturing/ Oil Refinery
Airports are a busy environment with hundreds of planes flying in and out of airports around the nation. Airport personnel is around aircraft making sure luggage is aboard, signaling to pilots, and ensuring a safe flight for crew and passengers. When airplanes start up the loud noise from the engine is extremely damaging to hearing. A jet engine noise level is associated with a range of 120 to 140 decibels. While being around dangerous sounds, proper hearing protection is necessary.
3M has manufactured the WS ProTac XP Headset designed specifically for airport ground mechanics. This headset features DSP (Digital Noise Reduction) providing effective noise attenuation when sound levels are high. The microphone uses effective noise compensation for clear and reliable communication when the surroundings are loud.
Construction/ Manufacturing/ Oil Refinery
Working in construction puts you around loud engines, jackhammers, and equipment every day for long hours. A construction site is around 110 decibels. Headsets should be worn to protect employee's hearing and abide by OSHA standards. 3M headsets and earplugs are a great option for employees working around loud construction.
3M LiteCom Pro Hart Hat Attachment
The LiteCom Pro series headsets come with a hard hat attachment option, protecting your workers from injury when hardhat use is required. The headset protects employees hearing in hazardous areas. The headsets make it easy to communicate with your team when in high noise environments. with up to 30 programmable two-way radio channels. This comes with 22 pre-programmed FRS/GMRS channels, 8 pre-programmed BRS channels, and 121 sub-channel settings.
If working in areas where ignition of spark, gas, or dust can’t occur, this headset is Factory Manual (FM) approved certified intrinsically safe. This option is great for oil refineries or gas.
Shooting Protection: Law Enforcement
The TEP series earplugs are designed to provide ultimate hearing protection. These earplugs are compact and lightweight which makes them perfect for construction applications. The earplugs have environmental microphones for level-dependent hearing protection and situational awareness. The situational awareness feature allows you to be aware of your surroundings in challenging environments. The TEP 200 has Bluetooth connectivity when using a two-way radio or cell phone. Unfortunately, the TEP 100 does not allow for wireless connectivity.
These electronic hearing protection devices are ideal for shooting and have become very popular within the law enforcement community.
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About the Author
Taylor Thomas is a Marketing Manager at First Source Wireless. With her experience in OSHA standards, she has helped workplaces improve the safety of their workers. Taylor has attended many conferences including International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), and International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE).