In case you haven’t HEARD, noise, or unwanted sound, is one of the most pervasive occupational health problems. Exposure to high levels of noise causes hearing loss and may cause other harmful health effects. The extent of damage depends primarily on the intensity of the noise and the duration of the exposure.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, noise-induced hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. Temporary hearing loss results from short-term exposures to noise, with normal hearing returning after a period of rest. Typically, prolonged exposure to high noise levels over a period of time gradually causes permanent damage.
OSHA’s hearing conservation program is designed to protect workers with significant occupational noise exposures from hearing impairment, even if they are subject to such noise exposures over their entire working lifetimes.
A hearing conservation program requires employers to monitor noise exposure levels in a way that accurately identifies employees exposed to noise at or above 85 decibels (dB) averaged over 8 working hours, or an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). Employers must monitor all employees whose noise exposure is equivalent to or greater than a noise exposure received in 8 hours where the noise level is constantly 85 dB.
Employers must repeat monitoring whenever changes in production, process, or controls increase noise exposure. These changes may mean that more employees need to be included in the program or that their hearing protectors may no longer provide adequate protection.
Employees are entitled to observe monitoring procedures and must receive notification of the results of exposure monitoring.
Audiometric testing monitors an employee’s hearing over time.
The employer must establish and maintain an audiometric testing program. The important elements of the program include baseline audiograms, annual audiograms, training, and follow-up procedures. Employers must make audiometric testing available at no cost to all employees who are exposed to an action level of 85 dB or above, measured as an 8-hour TWA.
The employee needs a referral for further testing when test results are questionable or when related medical problems are suspected. If additional testing is necessary or if the employer suspects a medical pathology of the ear that is caused or aggravated by wearing hearing protectors, the employer must refer the employee for a clinical audiological evaluation or ontological exam, as appropriate. There are two types of audiograms required in the hearing conservation program: baseline and annual audiograms.
The employer must fit or refit any employee showing a standard threshold shift (STS) with adequate hearing protectors, show the employee how to use them, and require the employee to wear them. Employers must notify employees within 21 days after the determination that their audiometric test results show an STS. Some employees with an STS may need further testing if the professional determines that their test results are questionable or if they have an ear problem thought to be caused or aggravated by wearing hearing protectors. If the suspected medical problem is not thought to be related to wearing hearing protection, the employer must advise the employee to see a physician.
Required Hearing Protection/Training
Employers must provide hearing protectors to all workers exposed to 8-hour TWA noise levels of 85 dB or above. Such requirement ensures that employees have access to protectors before they experience any hearing loss.
Workers who understand the reasons for the hearing conservation programs and the need to protect their hearing will be more motivated to wear their protectors and take audiometric tests. Employers must train employees exposed to TWAs of 85 dB and above at least annually in the effects of noise; the purpose, advantages, and disadvantages of various types of hearing protectors; the selection, fit, and care of protectors; and the purpose and procedures of audiometric testing.
Employers must keep noise exposure measurement records for 2 years and maintain records of audiometric test results for the duration of the affected employee’s employment. Audiometric test records must include the employee’s name and job classification, date, examiner’s name, date of the last acoustic or exhaustive calibration, measurements of the background sound pressure levels in audiometric test rooms, and the employee’s most recent noise exposure measurement.
Employers are also required to record work-related hearing loss cases when an employee’s hearing test shows a marked decrease in overall hearing.
Considering the strict mandates for hearing conservation, an employer must develop and implement an effective monitoring program when information indicates that any employee’s exposure may equal or exceed the OSHA requirement.
Should you need assistance with implementation, Axiom’s Precept OHP protects your company’s most important resource – your employees, provides a safe and healthful workplace and maintains compliance with governmental regulations.
- Complete Hearing Conservation Program
- Baseline audiograms, annual audiograms
- Evaluation of audiograms
- Follow-up procedures as necessary
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