Originally published 10/12/2016
According to a 2014 study conducted by Audicus (a hearing aid manufacturer), two out of three construction workers will experience some degree of hearing loss by the time they are 50. Most of it is due to the use of heavy equipment, jackhammers and heavy drills. This is alarming since the ability to hear well is essential to maintaining safety standards on the jobsite.
The World Health Organization says noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common, permanent, and preventable occupational injury in the world. NIHL may happen suddenly from an explosive type of blast, or gradually over time as a worker is continuously exposed to noise levels of 85 decibels (dBA) or higher without wearing proper hearing protection. Noise-induced hearing loss is often overlooked because most of the time it happens gradually.
OSHA has rules about how long you can be exposed to a noise level before you must wear hearing protection:
- 90 dBA Unprotected up to 8 hours
- 95 dBA Unprotected up to 4 hours
- 105 dBA Unprotected up to 1 hour
Cranes, bulldozers, concrete joint cutters, jack hammers and pneumatic chip hammers are just a few of the machines workers use that range from 90 – 113 dBAs.
If you have to shout for someone three feet away to hear you, the jobsite is probably too noisy and you need to talk with your manager about how to protect your hearing. OSHA suggest three steps to noise control:
- Reduce it – Use the quietest equipment available. Keep the equipment in proper working condition and well lubricated.
- Move it – Locate noisy equipment away from workers.
- Block it – Erect temporary barriers to block noise from reaching workers.
You can also protect workers by cutting the time they spend around loud noises. Rotate workers out of a high-noise area to minimize excessive noise exposure.
When engineering and administrative controls are not successful in reducing noise exposure, hearing protection devices must be used. According to OSHA, employers must offer appropriate hearing protection devices to employees who regularly work in areas where noise exposure is high. There are many different types of hearing protection. Each type is designed for certain noise conditions. Your employer will provide the necessary devices and provide proper training on how to use them. But remember, they must be worn properly and all the time in order to be effective.
Have your hearing checked each year and wear the hearing protection provided by your employer. Many workers are afraid they won’t hear warning signals or coworkers if they wear their hearing protection. But, some new protectors can let in voices and block other noises.