Occupational Health & Safety (OHSA) reports 30 million people in the United States are occupationally exposed to hazardous noise, read report here. In an industry where loud noises are the norm as opposed to the exception, hearing loss is a real concern for construction workers. Once you lose your hearing, you can never get it back. Sure there are some treatments that may be somewhat effective but for the most part, when it’s gone, it’s gone. Now is the time to protect your hearing before it becomes a problem.
Hearing loss as related to work in the construction industry is a critical issue for workplace health and safety. Termed “noise induced hearing loss” or (NIHL); it results from long term exposure to high intensity noises, and is becoming increasingly prevalent. NIHL is cum
ulative and gradual. Factors that influence how gradual are things like how far away the worker is from the source noise, how loud it actually is, and how long they are exposed to it, among others.
Causes of the Problem & Hearing Protection
There are thought to be numerous causes for why NIHL is so prevalent, including:
1. Hearing protection laws are woefully inadequate.
2. Standards for acceptable levels of noise are different throughout different government agencies.
3. Construction workers are often transient; they don’t stay in one place long enough to visit with a professional in hearing care.
4. The consistency of the sound and its loudness within the construction site.
5. Lack of training on proper hearing protection on the job.
6. Lack of the ability to understand how dangerous long term exposure to loud noises are for the worker.
With all of the machinery commonly found on construction sites, jackhammers, earth movers, backhoes, trucks etc., an active site is a very noisy place. By law, companies must provide ear protection that is appropriate, to workers who are susceptible, when at 90db over a time weighted average eight hour day, level is reached. However, plenty of employees either wear the protection improperly or not at all.
The newer types of hearing protection have been designed so that loud and dangerous background noise is either blocked or cancelled out, but they will still give the wearer the ability to hold a conversation. This type of device is not expensive, but the cost to your hearing is a price you cannot afford to pay. Always wear proper protection.
Noise Control & What Managers Can Do
Enclosures and sound barriers can be erected to isolate the workers from loud noise. Even a simple barrier that is made from plywood will offer some protection. Although initially it is a large out of pocket expense, it is possible to retrofit mufflers on heavy equipment that does not have it. Saws and blades can be purchased that are noise reducing. Although perhaps costly at first, measures like these will pay for themselves with better health and hearing for your employees.
Several things can be done at this level which will help to reduce the problem of NIHL:
1. Having warning signs posted for high noise levels
2. Better training of workers on-site
3. Strict enforcement of government and company regulations
4. Rotate workers on a regular basis out of loud jobs
5. Give breaks from the noise; have the employee leave for 10 minutes or if possible, turn the machinery off
Every day in the U.S., over 1 million workers are exposed to damaging noise levels. Noise related loss of hearing affects over 10 million. Annually, over 20 million workers are exposed to noise that is potentially damaging.
1. In 2007, according to the CDC, there were about 23,000 cases of work related hearing loss reported that was significant enough to cause permanent hearing impairment.
2. In 2007, roughly 82% of the cases involving work related hearing loss were reported from workers in the manufacturing/construction sector.
3. In 2008, there were roughly 2 million workers in the U.S. who were put at risk of hearing loss due to their work noise levels.
Maintaining healthy on site hearing is a responsibility that everyone on a construction site should be accountable for. Hearing protection and noise control can make all the difference in the world.