Noise exposure and hearing protection safety talk
Construction sites are full of loud noises. Workers may be exposed to hazardous levels of noise on a frequent basis.
Once your hearing is lost and your ear structure is damaged, there isn’t much you can do to get it back. That is why it’s important to protect your hearing on the jobsite and learn about noise exposure and hearing conservation safety.
How noise damages the ear
Hearing is a complex process that involves both your ears and your brain. Sound waves and auditory nerves work together to produce hearing.
Even the hairs in your ears play a crucial role. When you are subjected to loud noises and do not protect your ears, more often than not these hair follicles absorb most of the damage. Once they completely die, they never grow back, which harms your ability to hear.
Noise-induced hearing loss signs and symptoms
In most cases, hearing loss doesn't happen all at once. It is a process that gradually becomes worse over time.
That is why hearing protection and noise safety is so important, because you don't always notice hearing loss until it’s too late.
Sudden hearing loss
Sudden hearing loss is caused by a single, very loud explosion of noise. There are many ways your ears may be damaged when the noise occurs, including tinnitus, rupture of the eardrum, or damage to the tiny bones in the middle ear.
These damages can result in temporary or even permanent hearing loss.
If you suffer from tinnitus you hear a constant ringing in one or both of your ears. In some cases, tinnitus is a temporary problem that will subside over time, but it can also be permanent in some cases.
Sudden onset hearing loss or tinnitus can be a sign of long term damage to the ears.
How to prevent hearing damage
There are many ways that you can protect your hearing when you work in an environment with loud, hazardous noises. You should always adhere to these noise safety precautions to protect yourself and your ears.
Here are just a few of the many steps that you can take to protect your hearing.
Engineering controls can help protect your ears from loud noises, by bringing down the level of noise exposure to protect yourself and other workers.
Some examples of engineering controls that protect against hearing loss are noise dampening systems, sound barriers, and enclosures.
The best way to protect yourself from loud noises is to eliminate the noise in the first place. While this isn't always possible on the jobsite, you may be able to eliminate some loud, repetitive noises that are caused by unsafe practices.
Make sure your equipment is in good working order and that you are following proper safety procedures to avoid accidental loud noises like explosions or the dropping of heavy equipment.
Personal protective equipment
Personal protective equipment (PPE), should never be your only resource for protection. PPE is supplemental—not your sole line of defense. However, PPE like earplugs can help protect you from hearing loss alongside other safety regulations.
Workers can monitor decibels of noise on the jobsite. If the noise is below100 decibels, properly rated earplugs should protect you from hearing loss sufficiently. For any noise levels above 100 decibels, more hearing protection actions need to be taken.
When you’re exposed to high-decibel noise, you should consider doubling your hearing protection. PPE that covers your ears, like earmuffs, may need to be worn together with earplugs.
Prolonged exposure to loud noises puts you at higher risk for having hearing loss. It should be a rule that all employees need a break from the noise of the jobsite after a certain amount of time.
By putting administrative controls like mandated breaks into place, you can rotate employees out of the jobsite as needed to help protect their hearing.
Examples of loud noises
There are many loud noises that you can hear on a regular basis when working on a construction site. Some can cause permanent damage.
A few sounds that are often loud enough to damage hearing are:
Loud gardening equipment
Take extreme care to protect your ears not just when you are operating this equipment, but also when you are working near and around it.
Annual hearing test
While various workplaces may have different rules and operate under different regulations, OSHA does provide some universal guidance for employees who are exposed to 85 decibels of noise or higher on a regular basis.
OSHA dictates that basic knowledge and education about the risks of loud noise on the jobsite should be made available to employees at all times. Hearing tests should also be provided by the employer to check on the hearing of the employees annually.
This testing is also called audiometric testing.
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