Each day, companies of all shapes and sizes face the incredible responsibility of protecting their employees from workplace accidents. When we think of a “workplace accident,” we often imagine amputation, paralysis and, in some extreme cases, death. However, one of the most common injuries is often one of the most overlooked: occupational hearing loss. A recent study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly 13 percent of all workers suffer from at least some level of hearing loss.
Occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States, yet it’s not often top of mind when considering workplace incidents. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace for all employees, and that begins with noise and hearing protection.
Occupational hearing loss
The first step to protecting your employees against anything that could affect their hearing ability is educating yourself on occupational hearing loss. According to the CDC, roughly 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work each year. Additionally, more than 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to dangerous chemicals, which can be harmful to the ear and can affect hearing ability when those chemicals come in contact with the ear or ear canal.
Short-term exposure to damaging noise can lead to temporary changes in hearing, such as a ringing in the ears known as tinnitus. While these symptoms typically go away within a few hours, repeated exposure can lead to permanent tinnitus or complete hearing loss over time.
Long-term exposure to hazardous noise levels can cause permanent hearing loss, which cannot be corrected by surgery or a hearing aid. Noise-induced hearing loss can also limit one’s ability to hear high-frequency sounds, understand certain speech and seriously impair the ability to communicate with others around them.
According to OSHA, harmful noise can lead to several other issues, as well. For instance, loud noise can create physical and psychological stress, reduce productivity in the workplace, interfere with communication and concentration, and contribute to other serious workplace accidents and injuries by making it difficult for employees to hear warning signals.
Not only can occupational hearing loss damage an employee’s quality of life, it also carries a high economic price. While it’s impossible to put a number on the human toll of hearing loss, OSHA reports that an estimated $242 million is spent annually on workers’ compensation for hearing loss disability. Additionally, a recent OSHA study found that U.S. businesses paid more than $1.5 million in penalties for failing to protect employees from hazardous noise just in the last year.
This machine is covered by a large t-slotted aluminum perimeter enclosure that uses large polycarbonate panels for visibility.
So how can you protect your employees from damaging noise and protect yourself from unexpected and unnecessary fines? Implement a hearing loss prevention program and invest in quality sound enclosures for loud machinery.
Hearing loss prevention programs have certainly come a long way over the past few decades. In 1996, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health produced “Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss – A Practical Guide,” which outlined three main elements of hearing loss prevention: engineering control, administrative control and personal protective equipment. Respectively, those elements are aimed at 1) reducing and eliminating hazardous workplace noise at the source, 2) controlling exposure by relocating workers to a safe area through distance and/or barriers between the worker and the hazard and 3) providing workers with ear plugs and safety ear muffs.
In addition to stressing the “principle that the best of all prevention strategies is to have no exposure to agents that can cause or contribute to hearing loss,” the NIOSH also set the following eight components for implementing a successful hearing loss prevention program.
- Noise exposure monitoring
- Engineering and administrative controls
- Audiometric evaluation
- Use of hearing protection devices
- Education and motivation
- Record keeping
- Program evaluation
- Program audit
In regard to noise exposure, NIOSH also says that worker exposure “be controlled below a level equivalent to 85 dBA for eight hours to minimize occupational noise induced hearing loss.” Furthermore, the organization also recommends “a 3 dBA exchange rate so that every increase by 3 dBA doubles the amount of the noise and halves the recommended amount of exposure time.”
Understandably, when implementing a hearing loss prevention program that works for your employees, it’s extremely important to safeguard all loud machinery with quality sound enclosures.
Although safety earmuffs are a must, protecting employee hearing requires a three-pronged approach: preventing harmful noises at their source, creating distance or barriers between workers and harmful noise, and PPE.
A sound or noise enclosure refers to a type of guarding that encloses a loud machine to protect employees from hearing loss or complications from noise pollution. Typically, sound enclosures are made of plastic or clear PolyPro panels and work by using sound absorbers inside the guard to keep out a certain amount of noise. OSHA mandates that any machine that produces a potentially harmful noise be guarded with soundproof panels to block out a percentage of that noise.
While sound enclosures are often a highly effective means of noise control for mechanical equipment, it’s important to remember that not all machines are the same. This means, not all sound enclosures are created equal.
When looking to protect your employees from the harmful noise of loud machinery, it’s important to select the best sound enclosure to fit your particular needs. It’s also best to look for something easy to clean, water-resistant, heat reflecting and heavy duty. Customized enclosures that specifically fit to your machine block out more noise than standard one-size-fits-all sound enclosures.
The Faztek Quick Quote mobile app allows users to request a custom machine guarding quote without having to speak to a salesperson.
Being an industrial safety guarding provider, Faztek launched the Faztek Quick Quote mobile app to make the safety guarding process as easy as possible – whether it be for sound enclosures or other equipment safety products. The free app allows companies to request a custom machine guarding quote in minutes, enabling users to take a few photos of a machine that requires custom guarding and eliminating the need to speak with a salesperson.
This enclosure uses a mixture of rubber panel gaskets, rubber pads, sound absorbing foam and door seals to help reduce the sound emitted from the enclosed machine.
The Faztek app works in four simple steps:
- Download Faztek’s free Quick Quote mobile app from the Apple or Android store.
- Use the app to take four photos (front, back, left and right sides) of any machine that needs guarding. Additional photos are also accepted.
- Add details to the project, as needed:
- Include machine dimensions on each photo
- Name your project (in case of multiple projects at once)
- Select preferred material type
- Add a video to show designers where the machine operator sits
- Indicate where doors should be included
- Add notes specific to your needs
- Faztek designers will send a comprehensive free quote complete with a bill of materials, tagged drawing and 3-D AutoCAD drawing in three days or less for your approval.
Faztek is dedicated to providing customers with safety guarding solutions that protect employees, machines and companies as a whole. With the new app, it’s now easier than ever to request a quote for unique safety guarding, and the company believes this technology will have an enormous impact on its customers and the industries it serves.