Welcome to part 2 in our hearing loss blog series. If you haven’t read part 1, we recommend doing so now as it has pertinent information regarding OSHA rules.
Sound Prevention and Control
Engineering sits on the highest operating level of sound control. Since this involves direct contact with machinery or a certain degree of control over the area, it’s often the most time-consuming to implement (but frequently the most effective).
The most important and oftentimes simplest form of noise control is proper maintenance. Keeping machinery well-lubricated can make it run smoother and quieter. If machines are properly maintained but still prevent a noise hazard, some might choose to implement a sound barrier. Curtains and walls can be installed at the location of the machinery to prevent noise from bleeding over into other work areas. If it is an option and the machine presents too serious a sound hazard, full enclosure presents the most effective form of sound control.
Because building enclosures and walls is not always an option, supervisory or administrative control is the second best method of sound hazard prevention. A well-informed administrator can use shifts and time to keep the workplace running efficiently while reducing sound exposure.
The most obvious course of action for administration would be to set up separate times for the usage of machinery at high levels. If possible, high-decibel machinery should be run in separate shifts with as few exposed workers as possible. The less people expose to these loud sounds, the more flexibility you have in assigning their shifts.
The second method (and a surprisingly effective one) is maintaining worker distance from these noisy machines. By increasing distance between workers and loud machinery, you decrease the effective decibel count of that machinery. If at all possible, administrators should always be keen to areas away from machinery that can be utilized by workers to reduce their exposure.
Just as distance from the machinery plays an important role, a resting room (sound proof or far from operating machinery) can give workers relief from these loud noises and prevent short and long-term hearing issues.
Finally, there are hearing protection devices like earmuffs or plugs. These are the least desirable form of sound control, as they are an isolated tool that can make communication more difficult between workers and keep users from hearing important warnings. They should only be used in special cases where administrative and engineering controls would not be enough to provide a safe environment for workers.
Maintaining a program for hearing protection helps administration stay ahead of possible issues and hazards. Running hearing tests and recording field samples from workers can help you determine who needs protection devices. A proper training program and careful consideration are all that you need to ensure that your workers keep their hearing in tact. With a hearing protection program, you can help run a safer workplace for everyone involved. For more information on hearing conservation programs, visit OSHA’s HCP webpage.