One of the most common work related problems people who work in factories or other facilities face is the loss of hearing. The loud noises that occur can cause significant hearing loss or other hearing problems that often last a lifetime. Most safety managers would never consider allowing their facility to damage the legs, arms or head of their employees on a regular basis, but when it comes to hearing, many people don’t give it a second thought.
The technical term for the hearing problems related to noises is ‘noise-induced hearing loss’ and it is something that millions of people experience at one level of another.
What Causes Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) there can be two main causes of noise-induced hearing loss. Their website says:
“NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to an intense “impulse” sound, such as an explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time, such as noise generated in a woodworking shop.”
So, simply put, people can experience this type of hearing loss due to a single loud noise, or long term exposure to a loud noise. The prolonged exposure is often more threatening, because it doesn’t have to be nearly as loud as the single impact, and most people quickly get used to the noise around them. This is especially true in manufacturing facilities. With this in mind, it is important to consider noise conservation strategies.
What is Noise Conservation?
When discussing hearing protection in facilities, noise conservation is any effort that is made in an attempt to reduce the overall noise levels in a facility. There are many different options available, and in most cases even small improvements can have a big impact on the overall noise levels in the environment. The following are just a few examples of noise conservation techniques taken by facilities:
- Install Noise Absorbing Wall Coverings – Many facilities have bare metal walls, which cause noise to be reflected back into the facility, compounding the noise problem even further. Installing noise absorbing wall coverings can help to actually reduce the overall noise levels in the facility.
- Contain the Noise – If there is a particularly loud piece of machinery, see if it is possible to build a noise containing structure around it to help minimize the sound that escapes into the rest of the facility. If someone works within that structure, they need to wear hearing protection (example would be.
- Add Carpet Where Possible – Carpet will help to absorb noise, and minimize echoing very well. Carpet may not be practical in some areas of the facility, but where it is, add it in. Since noise travels such distances, installing carpet in one area can help to reduce the overall noise throughout the facility.
- Use Mufflers – Some types of machinery can have optional muffler devices added to them to reduce the noise that escapes. Wherever possible, use these types of mufflers.
Keeping Employees Safe through Hearing Conservation
Hearing conservation is a strategy where employees can take some type of action to help protect their hearing. The most common thing they could do is to wear ear plugs or other types of direct hearing protection while in the facility. This is a great way to dramatically reduce the amount of noise that gets to their ears, where it can cause damage.
Employers should always offer a variety of different hearing protection devices so that the employees can choose which ones work best for them. Some people might find earplugs to be uncomfortable, but the over the ear style hearing protection feels fine to them. Encouraging everyone to find the right type of hearing protection for them is a great way to ensure that they will wear it on a regular basis. In addition to offering ear plugs, employers should post wall signs or floor signs (like this ear protection floor sign) that reminds the employees of the proper PPE that is required.
One concern some people have with hearing conservation tools such as ear plugs is that it will make it so they can’t hear people talking in the area. Fortunately, there are modern ear protection devices that go over your years to muffle out all the noise. They have built in microphones and speakers, however, that will pick up voices, and play them right to you. This way you can hear what people are saying, without having to endure the dangerous noise levels in the area.
Education is Key for Noise and Hearing Conservation
Wearing hearing protection is often surprisingly difficult to get everyone to do. Since hearing loss typically occurs slowly over the course of years, people don’t see it as a real threat. In addition, people can get used to the loud noises very quickly, so they won’t think that it is actually causing any damage. In order to show people just how dangerous the continuous exposure to loud noises can be, it is important to have training classes on this subject and show training DVD’s. (like this Hearing Conservation DVD).
Showing employees that prolonged exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause significant hearing loss is a great place to start. Providing simple examples of sounds and how many decibels they have is a great way to illustrate the danger. Here are some common sounds that people will be able to easily associate with:
- Conversational Speech – 60 dB
- Electric Shaver or Alarm Clock – 80 dB
- Noisy Factory – 90 dB
- Turbo Jet – 150 dB
There are many lists of hundreds of different sounds that can be shown to employees so they will get a better idea of just how damaging the noises they are exposed to can be. Once everyone is educated on hearing conservation, it is important to make this type of protection mandatory throughout the facility. When employees work together with the noise conservation strategies, it is much easier to keep everyone’s hearing safe and sound.