If you are in the construction industry, you are probably aware of the challenges of creating a hearing conservation program. Construction sites typically have numerous pieces of equipment running at once, and the resulting noise can be hard for your workers to avoid.
OSHA imposes a permissible exposure limit of 90 decibels (measured as an 8-hour time-weighted average). If the noise at your site is 90 decibels or more, you are required to provide a hearing conservation program to protect your workers from hearing loss. An effective hearing conservation program should include the following five elements.
This is a crucial element to your program. Alternative ways to measure noise include sound mevel meters, which measure sound intensity at a moment in time; and dosimeters, which measure a person's average exposure to noise over time. Another approach is to conduct risk assessments to evaluate the level of noise generated by each specific task at your site.
Once you know what your noise exposure is, the next step is to figure out a way to mitigate it. Here are some potential ways to control or eliminate noise:
- Limit the time workers spend working with noisy equipment.
- Buy quieter equipment. Take noise into account when selecting equipment. Buying quieter equipment will help you control noise exposure at your site by eliminating the noise before it even happens.
- Isolate the worker from the noise by using an enclosure, such as a fully enclosed cab, that can protect the worker from the machine's noise.
In cases where exposure to noise cannot be eliminated, your workers will have to wear hearing protection. Fit testing is important to make sure the methods and equipment you selected are working. You should also make sure that the hearing protection provided is comfortable enough that your workers will actually wear it. A good idea is to provide a variety of options so your workers can choose the one that works best for them.
Audiometric Testing & Evaluation
You should test your workers annually to determine if they have experienced any hearing loss. This can be a challenge if you have lots of temporary workers, but is the only way to determine if your hearing conservation program is actually working. If you notice hearing loss in your long term employees from year to year, this indicates that you will need to re-evaluate your program and make improvements.
Training and Education
You should communicate the importance of hearing protection often and consistently so your workers understand the risks of noise hazards and how they can protect themselves.