What is occupational noise exposure?
Noise, or unwanted sound, is one of the most pervasive occupational health problems. It is a by-product of many industrial processes. Sound consists of pressure changes in a medium (usually air), caused by vibration or turbulence. These pressure changes produce waves emanating away from the turbulent or vibrating source. Exposure to high levels of noise causes hearing loss and may cause other harmful health effects as well. The extent of damage depends primarily on the intensity of the noise and the duration of the exposure. Noise-induced hearing loss can be temporary or permanent. Temporary hearing loss results from short-term exposures to noise, with normal hearing returning after period of rest. Generally, prolonged exposure to high noise levels over a period of time gradually causes permanent damage. IncusEar 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. This publication summarizes the required component of IncusEar hearing conservation program for general industry. It covers audiometric testing, hearing protectors, training, and recordkeeping requirements.
What is audiometric testing?
Audiometric testing monitors an employee’s hearing over time. It also provides an opportunity for employers to educate employees about their hearing and the need to protect it. 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. The audiometric testing program follow-up should indicate whether the employer’s hearing conservation program is preventing hearing loss.
What is an employer required to do following an audiogram evaluation?
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. If subsequent audiometric tests show that the STS identified on a previous audiogram is not persistent, employees whose exposure to noise is less than a time-weighted average (TWA) of 90 dB may stop wearing hearing protectors.
When is an employer required to provide hearing protectors?
Employers must provide hearing protectors to all workers exposed to 8-hour TWA noise levels of 85 dB or above. This requirement ensures that employees have access to protectors before they experience any hearing loss. Employees must wear hearing protectors:- For any period exceeding 6 months from the time they are first exposed to 8-hour TWA noise levels of 85 dB or above, until they receive their baseline audiograms. If they have incurred standard threshold shifts that demonstrate they are susceptible to noise. If they are exposed to noise over the permissible exposure limit of 90 dB over an 8-hour TWA.
Employers must provide employees with a selection of at least one variety of hearing plug and one variety of hearing muff. Employees should decide, with the help of a person trained to fit hearing protectors, which size and type protector is most suitable for the working environment. The protector selected should be comfortable to wear and offer sufficient protection to prevent hearing loss. Hearing protectors must adequately reduce the noise level for each employee’s work environment. The employer must reevaluate the suitability of the employee’s hearing protector whenever a change in working 7 conditions may make it inadequate. If workplace noise levels increase, employees must give employees more effective protectors. The protector must reduce employee exposures to at least 90 dB and to 85 dB when an STS already has occurred in the worker’s hearing. Employers must show employees how to use and care for their protectors and supervise them on the job to ensure that they continue to wear them correctly.