Preventing the 2nd Most Common Illness in the Workplace
Hearing loss by industry, based on number of incidents reported per 10,000 full time workers, 2013.
Imagine if you lost the ability to hear? What would life be like if you could not hear a loved one talking to you, music that you enjoy, or a car horn alerting you to possible danger?
A study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies hearing loss as the second most common illness in the workplace. Hearing loss is caused by excessive noise, one of the most common occupational hazards in American workplaces, according to the OSHA Technical Manual . Noise, unwanted sound, is especially prevalent in manufacturing facilities. The BLS study identifies incidence rates in the manufacturing sector are the greatest in private industry at 11.3 incidents per 10,000 . The overall average for the Private Sector is only 2.0 incidents, about 80% less than manufacturing. These statistics do not account for partial hearing loss, which often goes unnoticed, some estimates place incidence rates at three time or more than the BLS rates, when including partial hearing loss cases that are not reported.
Hearing Loss does not only refer to deafness, complete loss. Hearing loss may be partial, and the level of severity may increase over time. Hearing loss is not reversible and the damage is cumulative. It usually develops over time, gradually increasing. Hearing loss has no visible effects, and no pain is felt due to it, except in very rare cases. It’s an illness that is often realized after it’s too late. As a matter of fact, you may already have lost some of your hearing. To make matters worse, we naturally lose some hearing as a natural result of aging.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has regulations governing workplace noise exposure (Standard 1910.95). The regulation clearly identifies intervals of exposure at different noise levels. If an employee is to work an 8 hour workday, the continuous exposure noise level must not exceed 90 decibels dBA, and peak noise should never exceed 140 dBA. The table below specifies OSHA exposure intervals. Note that per OSHA guidelines, an increase of 5dBA reduces allowable exposure time in half.
OSHA Permitted Exposure Time at Specified Noise Levels
OSHA Permitted Exposure Time at Specified Noise Levels
As a general guideline, the work area is too noisy if a worker cannot make himself understood without raising his or her voice while talking to a co-worker 3 feet away. It may also be too loud if workers complain of hearing a ringing, humming or experience temporary hearing loss once they have left work.
If employees are exposed to sound levels exceeding the above table, OSHA requires employers to implement feasible administrative or engineering controls. Administrative controls are defined as changes in the workplace that reduce or eliminate workers exposure to noise. Some examples include:
• Operating noisy machinery during hours when less people are exposed
• Limiting the amount of time a person spends at a source of noise
• Provide quiet areas where a worker can gain relief from hazardous noise sources
• Restricting worker presence to a suitable distance away from noisy equipment, especially if the worker is not actually working with the noise source
Administrative Controls tend to be less expensive to implement than Engineering Controls, however some engineering controls are inexpensive, yet effective. Examples of Engineering Controls include:
• Choosing low-noise tools and machinery
• Maintain and lubricate machinery and equipment (e.g., oil bearings)
• Place a barrier between the noise source and employee (e.g., sound walls or curtains)
• Enclose or isolate the noise source
If these controls do not reduce sound levels to the limits listed on the table, employers are to provide personal protective equipment such as ear muffs or ear plugs, that will reduce sound to levels acceptable per the table.
OSHA requires employers to administer an effective hearing conservation program whenever worker noise exposure is equal to, or greater than 85dBA
• Noise level sampling and monitoring, identifying which employees are at risk due to excessive noise levels
• Informing workers at risk the results of their noise monitoring
• Providing affected workers or their authorized representatives an opportunity to observe any noise measurements conducted
• Maintaining professional hearing tests, evaluating the health effects of noise upon individual worker’s hearing
• Implementing follow-up procedures for workers who show a loss of hearing after completing baseline (first) and yearly audiometric testing
• Proper selection of hearing protection based upon individual fit and manufacturer’s quality testing
• Evaluate the hearing protectors attenuation and effectiveness for the specific workplace noise
• Training and information that ensures the workers are aware of the hazard from excessive noise exposures and how to properly use the protective equipment that has been provided
• Data management of and worker access to records regarding monitoring and noise sampling
These elements are considered critical by OSHA and ensure that workers are being protected.
Carts are a common tool used in manufacturing facilities and can be a significant source of noise, vibration can cause the contents of the cart to rattle and shake, and causing noise levels as high as 108 dBA in some cases that we have experienced. For that reason, we have created CASTERSHOX® featuring the patented SHOX® absorption system, which reduces noise by up to 90% and absorbs as much as 80% of shock at the source, right in the core of the wheel. To learn more, visit the CASTERSHOX® page.