NOISE EXPOSURE AND HEARING PROTECTION

In the United States, hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition after high blood pressure and arthritis. Short-term exposure to loud noise can cause a temporary change in a person’s hearing (ears may feel stuffed up) or a ringing in your ears (tinnitus). These short-term problems may go away within a few minutes or hours after leaving the noise. But repeated exposures to loud noise can lead to permanent ringing in the ears or hearing loss. For the construction industry, OSHA tells us our noise exposure cannot exceed an average of 90 decibels (dba) over an eight-hour period (OSHA 1926.52).

COMMON CAUSES OF NOISE IN CONSTRUCTION

  • Heavy equipment like milling machines and pavers
  • Excavators and dozers
  • Concrete saws
  • Chipping hammers
  • Air hammers
  • Hydraulic hammers

SIGNS OF NOISE OVEREXPOSURE

  • A person must raise their voice to be heard by another person three feet away – noise is about 85 decibels (dBA).
  • A person must shout to be heard by another person three feet away – noise is about 95 decibels (dBA).
  • A person hears ringing or humming in their ears at the end of the workday.
  • A person notices temporary hearing loss at any point when leaving work.

CHOOSING THE CORRECT HEARING PROTECTION

Hearing protection is labeled with a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). When worn correctly, the NRR tell us the amount of noise or sound reduction we can expect when wearing hearing protection. Due to changing factors such as size, worn correctly, etc., OSHA suggests reducing the NRR by 50% for a true noise reduction in the field. If you combine two types of hearing protection together, ear plugs with earmuffs, you only add an NRR of five to the higher NRR form of hearing protection.

TYPE OF HEARING PROTECTION

  • Earplugs – when worn correctly can give you the highest NRR.
  • Earmuffs – form air‐tight seal over the ear, NRR up to 30 dB; less effective when using eyewear.
  • Canal Caps – lower NRR; use pressure from a headband to hold the earplugs in place.

IMPORTANT FACTS TO REMEMBER

  • Repeated exposure to high levels of noise over long periods of time will reduce your ability to hear.
  • You may not notice a loss of hearing until a substantial loss has occurred.
  • Hearing loss is typically gradual but is irreversible.

Download a printable PDF and recording form here.

Tips for Work Zone Safety

Originally published on 04/18/2018

Every day, highway, heavy and utility construction workers are exposed to traffic hazards as part of their daily work routine. Some of the hazards include moving construction vehicles, noise from motors and vehicles, limited visibility, night work and limited lighting, close proximity to traffic, inclement weather and slips, trips and falls.

Although work zone hazards vary, and there are no “one size fits all” procedures, here are a few tips that can be followed to help workers protect themselves in works zones.

When working in traffic, be sure to wear the required personal protective equipment such as:

  • Reflective, high-visibility vests or clothing
  • Hard hats
  • Eye protection
  • Protective footwear
  • Hearing protection

To help the motorist while protecting construction workers:

  • Have a traffic control plan and periodically review it to see if it needs to be changed. Set the work zone to avoid unclear lane markings and lane confusion.
  • Use flaggers who have been trained to use standard traffic control devices and signals. Be sure the flaggers are readily visible to traffic.
  • Observe traffic conditions to determine the volume condition of the work zone.
  • Avoid standing or parking in places that block road signage.
  • Remove construction debris that can become a hazard for motorists as well as construction workers.
  • Remove worn, old, non-reflective traffic control devices from service.
  • Strategically use vehicles and equipment as barriers between traffic and workers when other positive protections are not available.
  • Use appropriate and sufficient lighting for night work areas.

Other tips to help keep the work zone safe include:

  • Avoid complacency on the job.
  • Get plenty of rest, so you will be alert while working.
  • Be sure all underground and overhead utilities are located and marked.
  • Minimize the amount of time employees need to be exposed to traffic. Get in, get done and get out.
  • Limit the amount of personnel and equipment in the work zone to only those that are necessary for the job at hand.
  • Do not assume that equipment operators can see you. Make eye contact with the operator before crossing in front of or behind them.
  • Create out of bounds areas that are off limits to employees due to the traffic hazard.
  • Ensure that back up alarms on vehicles are functioning properly.
  • Do not run through moving traffic or machines.
  • Provide an emergency egress/escape route in case of emergency, and make sure employees know what it is.
  • Stay hydrated. Construction workers are susceptible to overexertion and heat-related illnesses. Drink plenty of water or liquids high in electrolytes like sports drinks or coconut water.

Follow these tips, and do all you can to ensure your safety and the safety of your co-workers.

Download a recording form here.

Construction Noise – Hearing Protection

Originally published 04/04/2018

The construction industry is a high-risk industry for noise-related ill health. Many construction processes are noisy. If you must raise your voice to have a normal conversation when standing about 2 meters apart for at least part of the day, then noise levels on the site may be at a level which could damage health. There could also be a problem if there are sudden extremely loud noises on the site, such as from cartridge operated tools, or if at the end of the day you notice that your hearing is muffled, or your ears are ringing. Quality of life can be badly affected by noise induced hearing loss. Affected people may find that:

  • Conversation becomes difficult or impossible.
  • They have trouble using the telephone.
  • They find it difficult to catch sounds like ‘t’, ‘d’, and ‘s’, confusing similar words.
  • They may suffer from permanent tinnitus (ringing, whistling, buzzing or humming in the ears) which can be a distressing condition and can lead to other problems, including depression and loss of sleep.
  • Their family complains about the television being too loud.

Eliminating noisy processes or substituting them for a less noisy process are the best ways of dealing with noise on a construction site. If it is not possible to remove workers from the noisy area then choosing quieter equipment can also be effective. As a last resort, hearing protection and hearing protection zones may be appropriate. Ways noise can be reduced include:

  • Eliminate noise during design.
  • Substitute a less noisy process.
  • Remove workers from the vicinity of noisy work.
  • Select quiet equipment.

It is not the best practice to rely on hearing protection alone to control noise exposure. Hearing protection should only be used when extra protection is needed above what has been achieved by noise control techniques such as elimination of noisy tasks, substituting quieter processes, removing workers from noisy areas and selection of quiet equipment. If protection is still required after taking these measures:

  • Make sure the protection provided gives enough protection – aim to get below 85 db at the ear, but don’t provide excessive protection as protectors which cut out too much noise causing isolation or an unwillingness to wear them.
  • Target the use of protectors to the noisy tasks and jobs in a working day.
  • Select protectors which are suitable for the working environment – consider how comfortable and hygienic they are.
  • Think about how they will be worn with other protective equipment such as hard hats, dust masks, and eye protection.
  • Provide a range of protectors so that workers can choose ones which will work best for them.
  • Make sure workers are trained on how and when to use the hearing protectors.

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, all should be aware that some new protectors can let in voices and block other noises.

Download the recording form here.

Workplace Violence

Originally published 12/12/2017

Workplace violence can happen anywhere, any time – including on a construction site. It can come from a co-worker or a stranger. Workers that are particularly vulnerable are those that exchange money with the public; deliver passengers, goods or services; work alone or in small groups during early morning hours or late at night; or work in high-crime areas. According to an OSHA Fact Sheet, some two million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year.

Workplace violence is any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting. Before people explode, they may give signals that something is wrong. Some of those signals might include:

  • Social isolation.
  • Frustration, confusion or faulty decision-making.
  • Complaints of unfair treatment.
  • Excessive lateness or absenteeism.
  • Blaming others for mistakes.
  • Inappropriate comments about revenge, violence or weapons.
  • Disrespect for authority.
  • Overreacting to criticism.
  • Anger and hostility.

The best protection employers can offer is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by their employees. Make sure all employees know and understand the policy and that they understand that all claims will be investigated and, where necessary, remedied.

Nothing can guarantee that an employee will not become a victim of workplace violence. These steps, however, can help reduce the odds:

  • Learn how to recognize, avoid or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending personal safety training programs on workplace violence.
  • Don’t get drawn into arguments.
  • Take verbal threats seriously, but don’t respond to them. Report all threats to your supervisor.
  • Report all incidents of bullying and sexual harassment.
  • Watch for unauthorized visitors – even those who appear to have legitimate business at your work site or office.
  • Report suspicious people or vehicles.
  • Don’t give out information about fellow employees.
  • Devise a plan such as predetermined code words, so that one employee can tell another about a dangerous customer or visitor without tipping off the suspect.
  • Trust your instincts.

Download the recording form here.