Hey! What did you say? Or, Why You Should Wear Hearing Protection at Work

Posted on Sep 25, 2018 by Kathy DeGlandon



 Why You Should Protect Your Hearing at Work

You probably take your hearing for granted; in fact, most people do, until they start having difficulty understanding common, everyday conversations with friends and/or loved ones. As we age, losing some hearing is a natural process, and you can lose more than necessary if you don’t protect your hearing. Woman Wearing Hearing Protection at WorkAnd, wearing hearing protection at work is a smart way to prevent workplace noise from damaging your hearing. We all know that personal protective equipment is required to wear at work, and many people try to figure out ways to get around wearing it or just don’t wear it. But, protecting your hearing from workplace noise is essential just because you don’t know your hurting your ears and your hearing until it’s too late. Often people just think it’s a temporary buzzing noise after a loud concert, a muffled sound after listening to machines all day, or having someone repeat something again during a conversation. Unfortunately, hearing loss is gradual and irreversible, and protecting yourself from workplace noise is very easy. 

What Is Workplace Noise?

If you work in the oilfield, then more than likely, you are exposed to workplace noise. Whether you’re in a machine shop, out in the yard, or on a rig, you’ll hear the usual banging, clanging, buzzing and whirring of machinery. The louder and longer a worker is exposed to noise levels of 85 decibels or higher, then the more likely s/he will experience hearing loss, unless s/he wears hearing protection. In fact, one in four workers in North American will be exposed to workplace noise levels that can damager hearing with prolonged exposure. Just to give you an example of normal noises, any sound, such as a bird chirping or any other quiet outdoor sounds, is 30-40 decibels. Normal office sounds range between 40-50 decibels. Casual conversation is 50-60 decibels, and machinery such as electric motors, garbage disposals and city traffic are at 70-90 decibels. A lawn mower’s noise is 100-120 decibels, and jet engine is 140+ decibels. So, to sum up, some workers are experiencing a day’s worth of listening to a garbage disposal.  I’m not sure about you, but when I flip that garbage disposal switch, I can’t wait to shut it off.  So, why would you expose yourself to a day’s worth of listening to a garbage disposal, when it would be just as easy to use proper hearing protection?

What Is Hearing Protection?

Hearing protection is a device that will protect your ears from sound and decreases the intensity of sound that reaches the eardrum. Workplace hearing protection comes in two forms: earmuffs and earplugs.

EarmuffsWorkplace Ear Muff for Hearing Protection fit over your whole ear and form a seal of protection around your entire ear. They are attached with a strap or band. Earmuffs should fit snuggly but not too tightly, and in some cases, may not be worn over long hair or glasses/eye protection.

 

 

 

 

Ear Plugs for hearing protection at workEarplugs are inserted into the ear in the ear canal and come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit most ears. This kind of protection snugly fits in the entire circumference of the ear canal, and they are usually made of a soft kind of foam that can be rolled and that will expand when inserted into the ear canal. Be sure that they are clean and undamaged to properly protect your hearing.

 

 

 

 

Ultimately, the choice is yours, whether you use earmuffs or earplugs; however, good protection depends on the device’s seal. Even the smallest leak can cause the device to lose effectiveness. All protectors can loosen over time with chewing, talking etc., and they should be adjusted throughout the day to best protect you from workplace noise.

When you hearing protection fits properly, it will reduce noise and protector your ears. Each protection device has a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) on its packaging. This unit of measure determines the effectiveness of hearing protection devices, and all protectors must be tested and approved by American National Standards (ANSI) in accordance with OSHA, and all hearing protection is required to meet the ANSI S3.1901974 testing of NRR levels. Generally, the higher the NRR number the greater the noise reduction.  Often people will ask if they can wear both kinds of protection at the same time, and yes you can wear both ear plugs and earmuffs at the same time. If you do wear them together, then knowing the level of protection is easy. Just add five more decibels to the highest NRR protection level. So if the earplugs you were are 26dB earplugs and the earmuffs you wear with them are 30 dB, then the total noise reduction rating 35 (NNR35).  In the end, you want to make sure you wear you hearing protection continuously while being exposed to workplace noise. Failure to do so will decrease the overall effectiveness of your hearing protection.

How Do I Know If Workplace Noise Is Dangerous?

Most people will get used to the noise at work and will think they don’t need hearing protection. But, it is very important to protect your hearing because hearing loss is gradual and irreversible. So, since we don’t walk about with devices that detect harmful decibel levels, how do you know if the workplace noise you hear is dangerous? Here are some common signs that you need to wear hearing protection at work:

  • If you have to shout or speak very loudly in order for your co-workers to understand you, then it is highly likely that you are being exposed to high decibel noise.
  • If the noise at work is intermittent and is above 85 decibels, you could be exposed to too much workplace noise.
  • If your ears ring, chirp or hiss at the end of a long day of work, then you probably have been exposed to too much workplace noise.
  • When you leave work and music or conversations sound muffled to you, but then it clears up the next day, then the noise at work is more than likely affecting your hearing.

What’s Too Much Workplace Noise?

According to OSHA, noise exposure should be limited based on the sound level. The chart below describes when hearing protection is needed. The rule of thumb is, if noise exposure is at 85 decibels or higher then hearing protection should be worn. The amount of protection is determined by the amount of workplace noise and the amount of time you are exposed to it.

OSHA’s Noise Exposure

Duration in hours per day

Decibel (dBA) sound level

8

90

6

92

4

95

3

97

2

100

1.5

102

1

105

0.5

110

<.25

115

 

The OSHA Action Level will depend on the decibel level and how long you are exposed to this noise. For example, if you work in a shop that the noise level is consistently at 102 decibels for 1.5 hours, then you should be wearing hearing protection. Because loud noises can come and go, there is an amount of exposure time that requires protection.  Also, noise exposure is cumulative. Not only should you take into account workplace noise, but you should also factor in the amount of noise you are exposed to after work as well. 

Why You Should Wear Hearing Protection

You may not like wearing hearing protection and have tried to trick people into thinking that you’re wearing this personal protective equipment (PPE), but you are only harming yourself in the long run. The longer you are exposed to loud noise the more damaging it can be. Excessive, loud noise affects your concentration, and studies have shown that loud noise will distract you when you are trying to perform a difficult task. If you think about when you jump after hearing a loud noise and are startled, it’s a lot like that.  If these tasks require high levels of concentration and are dangerous, then you could be exposing yourself to unnecessary workplace hazards. In fact, noise can create ringing in your ears, called tinnitus, which is very distracting in itself. In some people, loud noises cause anxiety and irritability, increased pulse rate and blood pressure, increase stress, and/or an increase in stomach acid. Not only that, long-term exposure to excessive noise disrupts your sleep.  If these symptoms are prolonged, then can have a negative effect on your overall health.

Protect Your Hearing with Hearing Protection

Being exposed to loud, workplace noise can permanently effect your hearing. Because hearing loss is gradual and often goes unnoticed until it is too late, it is important to make sure that you are wearing your hearing protection properly and regularly, even though you think you don’t need it. Permanent hearing loss can be avoided if you wear the right hearing protection for the noise in your workplace.

 

Resources

Occupational Safety and Health Administration – Occupational Noise Exposure - https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/

International Association of Drilling Contractors- Hearing Conservation - http://www.iadc.org/safety-meeting-topics/hearing-conservation/

American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery – Noise and Hearing Protection - https://www.entnet.org//content/noise-and-hearing-protection

Safety Toolbox Topics – Wearing Earplugs Properly - http://safetytoolboxtopics.com/comments-on-toolbox-topics/503-wearing-earplugs-properly.html#330

Safety Toolbox Topics – Proper Fit of Hearing Protection – NRR - http://safetytoolboxtopics.com/Hearing-Conservation/proper-fit-of-hearing-protection-nrr.html

Safety Toolbox Topics – Hearing Safety -- http://safetytoolboxtopics.com/comments-on-toolbox-topics/255-hearing-safety.html#50

The Texas Department of Insurance -  Noise and Hearing Protection Worksheet - https://www.tdi.texas.gov/pubs/videoresource/fsnoise.pdf

Creative Safety Supply – ANSI S3.19 – Noise Reduction - https://www.creativesafetysupply.com/articles/ansis319-noise-reduction/

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