Additional Information

Site Information

 Loading... Please wait...

Taking Care of Your Ears: How to Stay Safe From Workplace Noise.

Posted on

Ear Protection: How to Protect Your Workplace

Exposure to dangerous noise levels is one of the most common workplace hazards. According to OSHA, twenty-two million workers are exposed to dangerous noise levels per year. An estimated $242 million is spent on worker’s compensation, and $1.5 million is levied in punitive fines. We can conclude then, that the problem is too prevalent. Hearing loss is often irreversible, and dramatically affects worker’s lives and well-being. Fortunately, there are simple, cost-effective, and easily adoptable solutions to protect workers’ hearing. This article will help you understand what you need to do to stay compliant and safe.

How the Ear Works

The ear can be divided into three main sections: the outer, middle, and inner ear. Sound waves enter the outer ear, are amplified in the middle ear, and are converted into nerve impulses in the inner ear. These nerve impulses result in the perception of sound.

The inner ear contains the cochlea, a small structure which is lined with cells with microscopic hairs called cilia. These vibration of these hairs is what converts sound waves into the sound we hear. Loud noise can damage cilia, resulting in permanent hearing loss.

When Does Noise Become Unsafe?

Exposure to noise greater than or equal to 85 decibels may cause hearing loss. Many common industrial tools can produce noise exceeding 85 decibels, including sanders, drills, saws, and spray painters. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides a noise meter with some frequently encountered sounds, which illustrates just how common dangerous noise levels can be:

The severity of hearing damage is also dependent on the amount of time one is exposed to high volume levels. As one might expect, the chance of injury increases the longer one is exposed to loud noise. This table, from OSHA standard 1910.95, shows the limits of safe daily noise exposure.

TABLE G-16 - PERMISSIBLE NOISE EXPOSURES (1)

______________________________________________________________

|

Duration per day, hours | Sound level dBA slow response

____________________________|_________________________________

|

8...........................| 90

6...........................| 92

4...........................| 95

3...........................| 97

2...........................| 100

1 1/2 ......................| 102

1...........................| 105

1/2 ........................| 110

1/4 or less................| 115

____________________________|________________________________

Footnote(1) When the daily noise exposure is composed of two or

more periods of noise exposure of different levels, their combined

effect should be considered, rather than the individual effect of

each. If the sum of the following fractions: C(1)/T(1) + C(2)/T(2)

C(n)/T(n) exceeds unity, then, the mixed exposure should be

considered to exceed the limit value. Cn indicates the total time of

exposure at a specified noise level, and Tn indicates the total time

of exposure permitted at that level. Exposure to impulsive or impact

noise should not exceed 140 dB peak sound pressure level.



How Do I Make My Workplace Safe?

While engineers and building planners can find ways to reduce noise through building and machine design, sometimes loud noises are unavoidable. Fortunately, it is not difficult to find safe, comfortable, inexpensive, and easy to use ear protection. The two most common ear protection devices (EPD) are ear plugs and ear muffs.

Ear plugs, when used properly, offer more protection than ear muffs. Plugs are fitted directly into the ear canal, whereas muffs cover the entire ear. There are however, significant differences between models of ear plugs. It is important to make sure the level of noise reduction is adequate for your workplace. Ear plugs are required to have noise reduction ratings (NRR), which indicate how much protection an EPD offers. The NRR is dependent upon the fit and proper usage of the plug. If a plug is not fitted correctly, it may provide significantly less protection than its NRR indicates. OSHA provides a way to estimate the protection of an EPD in standard 29 CFR 1910.95, Appendix B. Additionally, to adjust for actual conditions on the field, OSHA suggests a 50% correction factor.

There are some advantages to ear muffs in comparison to plugs. Muffs do not show as much variation in protection as plugs, because they are not as dependent on fit and proper use. Muffs can also protect the ear from cold weather or strong winds. However, ear muffs alone do not provide as much protection as ear plugs, and are often used for moderate noise, or in conjunction with ear plugs. Adding muffs to ear plugs adds roughly 5 db to the NRR.

How Do I Train My Employees?

Workers exposed to an 8 hour time-weighted average of 85 decibels must be provided with adequate hearing protectors. As we stated earlier, protection is dependent upon proper fit, so it is important to train employees to use EPDs properly. The comfort of plugs and muffs is another important, though often overlooked, factor in ear protection. First, comfortable EPDs are more likely to be used by employees. Second, a poorly fitting or uncomfortable ear plug is more likely to be taken out of the ear for readjustment, potentially exposing workers to dangerous noise levels. For this reason OSHA requires employers provide employees with choices of EPDs. At least one pair of ear plugs and ear muffs must be available, but OSHA recommends more pairs. Three choices of ear plugs is likely adequate for normal-sized workplaces. The employer must supervise the initial fitting to make sure the EPDs are being used correctly.

The life span of a given pair of muffs or plugs varies from pair to pair, but all EPDs have limited life spans. The foam bodies of ear plugs and the seals of rubber ear plugs and muffs eventually lose their elasticity. When the plug no longer provides adequate protection, the employer must provide replacement pairs at no cost to the worker. Some ear plugs can be cleaned with mild soap and water. Dirty ear plugs can pose several health risks, including ear infections. For this reason, many workplaces opt to provide single-use disposable ear plugs, to ensure that plugs remain clean and effective. 

Exit Routes: How be Safe and Compliant

Exit routes are critical to workplace safety. Compliant exits can save lives and prevent serious injury during emergency situations. OSHA standard 1910.36 sets forth requirements for constructing and maintaining exit routes. This guide will help you prepare your workplace for safe and compliant exits.OSHA defines the exit route as a continuous and unobstructed path of exit travel from any point within [...]

Read More »


Buying Lockout Devices: What You Need to Know

Lockout devices, usually used in conjunction with padlocks, are designed to prevent the accidental startup or energization of equipment or machines. This guide will provide a brief overview of common lockout devices, and help you decide what you need to make your workplace as safe as possible.Choosing DevicesMany lockout devices are specific to certain types of machines, and [...]

Read More »


Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Guide

This short guide will help employers and workers understand personal protective equipment (PPE). We will help workplaces choose the right PPE, stay compliant, and maximize safety.What is PPE?Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) refers to wearable equipment that protects workers from workplace hazards. These hazards can include chemicals, dust and debris, potential impacts, sharp objects, loud noise, light radiation, and extreme temperatures. [...]

Read More »


Workplace Lighting Guide: Staying Compliant

Lighting is a crucial safety consideration. A properly lit workplace impacts safety in several ways. It allows machines, vehicles and workers to safely navigate space. It allows employees to clearly see the potentially dangerous machines with which they are working. And, in emergency situations, it clearly communicates walkways, fire escapes, exits, and other potentially life-saving information.General LightingFirst, we will consider [...]

Read More »


How to Save Money by Going Green

Making a commitment to green and environmental principles can have significant financial benefits. Going green can help companies form strong relationships with their customer base, save on energy costs, earn tax rebates, and help cut down on workplace waste. This guide will detail some of the most important benefits of eco-friendly business practices.1. Connect with Your Customer BaseBuilding relationships [...]

Read More »


What Are the Advantages of LEED?

WHAT IS LEED?Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a program initiated by the US Green Building Council which encourages efficient, eco-friendly building designs. LEED awards certification based on several environmental factors, including water conservation, materials, performance, and green energy. LEED-certified buildings operate more efficiently than non-green designs and offer several distinct advantages to companies and our environment, including advantages [...]

Read More »


A Visual Guide to HazCom Pictograms, Chemical Labels, and SDS

OSHA’ s Hazard Communication (HazCom) standard, effective June 1 2016, requires workers to fully understand the risks posed by workplace chemicals. The new HazCom standard is integrated with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), which provides a universal chemical classification system. Under the new standard, a detailed, standardized label must be created for each and every chemical extant in a given [...]

Read More »


Find the Right Safety Signs for Your Workplace

Signs are an indispensable part of workplace safety. This helpful guide will help you find the signs that are right for you. We will consider the material of signs, compliance and safety requirements, and a few tips to help you maximize safety and minimize costs.Material Safety signs are available in a wide variety of materials. The most common are aluminum, [...]

Read More »



Top