Occupational hearing loss (OHL) is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States with about 22 million workers exposed to hazardous noise levels at work, 10 million exposed to solvents, and an unknown number exposed to other ototoxicants that can lead to OHL. According to the National Institute for Occupational and Safety Health (NIOSH), noise is considered loud (hazardous) when it reaches 85 decibels or higher or if someone has to raise his/her voice to speak with someone 3 feet away (arm’s length). Ototoxic chemical exposure includes such chemicals as organic solvents (styrene, trichloroethylene and such mixtures), heavy metals (mercury, lead, trimethyltin), asphyxiants (carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide), and pesticides.
NIOSH has always considered hearing loss prevention as one of its top priorities as OHL is permanent, but also nearly always preventable. The best solution to dangerous noise levels in the workplace is to reduce the source of the noise, if feasible. One NIOSH initiative is to encourage companies to “Buy Quiet,” meaning to develop a plan to take noise levels into consideration when making purchasing decisions.
If this is not technically feasible, workers must use hearing protection devices (HPDs), which when properly selected and correctly worn, these devices will minimize the chance of developing a hearing loss. When considering hearing loss due to ototoxicants, it has been shown that some of these chemicals can cause hearing loss in conjunction with noise levels, but some can cause hearing loss without simultaneous excessive noise exposure.
Virtually all companies that perform manufacturing, construction, or mining activities create noise, so the first step to protecting your employees’ hearing is to establish a hearing conservation program. Workplace Safety & Health Co., Inc. can help your business establish such a program, which would include provisions for noise measurement, engineering and/or administrative control of noise, audiometric (individual employee hearing) testing and provision of hearing protectors.
Noise exposure crosses all industries and affects many workers, and many workers are unaware that their hearing loss may be an OHL, and in most cases, happens gradually. Workplace Safety & Health Co., Inc. is ready to help you protect your employees’ hearing. Contact us at 317-253-9737.