It doesn’t really matter if you work in an office, construction site, or somewhere in between, you will find different levels of noise everywhere you go. The industry standard dBA or decibel level is 85, but what does that mean? Any prolonged exposure to noise above 85 dBA can result in hearing loss. If you were to whisper, that would be around 30 dBA or a casual conversation registers at 60 dBA (not accounting for the loud talkers of the world). Riding a motorcycle is 100 dBA while using a table saw is around 105 dBA.
One more thing we can all relate to is a concert which registers at 110 dBA. Remember how your ears rings for a little while after you leave the concert? That is a side effect of exposure to loud noises. This type of hearing loss is temporary and will disappear after some time away the exposure. However, permanent hearing loss can result due to long-term exposure to noise, with normal hearing to be impaired indefinitely.
Now that we can see everyday causes of noise and how often we are actually around it, it is one of the most widespread occupational health problems that many of us don’t really do anything about.
Hearing protection must be made available to all workers exposed to noise levels over the permissible limit in order to prevent hearing loss. Hearing protection reduces the severity of the noise level for each employee’s work environment. One of the common reasons employees do not wear hearing protection is because they say it’s not comfortable. It is important that employees are given the chance to select protection from a variety of devices to find the product best suited for them. Not only does the employer have to provide hearing protection, they must also provide training in the proper use and care of all hearing protection provided to employees.
The first step in understanding and controlling noise levels is to identify the sources of noise in the workplace. If you are not sure what noise levels are being produced, technology has made is it even easier to find this out. Most smart phones now have apps that can be downloaded for free that will show you how loud your environment is. Once the sources have been identified, you can determine what hearing protection is needed. Different types of hearing protection will list the dBA exposure levels they are designed to protect you from. Remember, that if you determine that hearing protection must be used, it is always a good idea to document what areas (including decibel levels) require what type of protection.
It is important to remember that PPE is your last line of defense. Any good hearing protection plan will look to eliminate or reduce noise levels through engineering controls. This includes using low-noise tools and machinery, isolating the noise by distance, or using sound walls or barriers to isolate the noise. In most cases, both engineering controls and hearing protection must be implemented together to ensure the proper protection against noise-induced hearing loss.
The employer must ensure that employees are trained as to why, when and where they should use hearing protection. This training and PPE used must be re-evaluated whenever there is a change in the work environment.