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Construction: Hearing Protection

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On a daily basis, construction workers are exposed to potentially hazardous noise on jobsites. Even though your particular trade may not be producing the noise, you are exposed to the noise on the site. Having a hearing conservation program is required when employees are exposed to a level of 85 dBA over an eight-hour work day. 

The first step to a successful program is to monitor noise levels and accurately identify employees who are exposed to noise levels of 85 dBA and above. Be particularly aware of specific equipment that produce noise.  These instruments include saws, jackhammers, forklifts, heavy equipment, etc. 

Engineering Controls
Much of the processes in construction are set and eliminating noise completely is difficult. 
The following are examples of possible controls:

  • Replace dated equipment that may be a large source of noise with newer equipment with noise-dampening substances built in.
  • Lubricate and maintain all equipment to avoid noise from a worn part.
  • Block the noise by building a temporary barrier (e.g. place plywood over the generator and place fire-resistant acoustical absorbing material inside the box).
  • When working on-site remember that soil and sand absorb sound.

Administrative Controls
Implement practices that will limit the time an employee spends exposed to a noise source. The following are possible controls that could be implemented immediately:

  • Move equipment, like saws, away from a general area on-site to a more secluded area to increase the distance of the machine from the majority of workers.
  • Operate noisy machines when there are less workers present on the jobsite.
  • Rotate workers so that they are not always tasked with a job that is exposed to high levels of noise.

Hearing Protection
Hearing protectors are required when workers are exposed to an eight-hour time weighted average (TWA) noise level of 85 dBA or above. Employers are required to provide hearing protection to employees.  Engineering controls and administrative controls should be the first options to control noise on a jobsite.   

When selecting a type of hearing protection, check for the noise reduction rating (NRR) rating and ensure that it reduces noise exposure to the permissible level. The listed NRR should be cut in half to account for improper insertion into the ear. Ear muffs and ear plugs are the most common types of protection used. Be sure they fit properly and are worn properly. In order to achieve a proper reduction in noise, dual protection might be required with the use of both plugs and muffs.

While wearing hearing protection, it is important that construction workers are able to hear warning signals and are able to clearly communicate with each other. 

Employee training is critical. When employees understand the dangers of noise and the positive effects of complying with the hearing conservation program, they will be motivated to actively participate in the program. Employees exposed to TWAs of 85 dBA and above must be trained annually on the effects of noise, the advantages and disadvantages of various types of protectors, the selection, fit, and care of protectors, and the purpose of the annual audiometric testing. Audiometric testing is required for employees with a TWA of 85 dBA and above.

Record Keeping
Noise exposure records must be kept for two years, and records of audiometric test results must be kept for the duration of employment of the affected employee. Audiometric tests must include the name and job classification of the employee, the date, the examiner’s name, the date of the last acoustic or exhaustive calibration, measurements of background sound pressure levels in the audiometric test room, and the employee’s most recent noise exposure measurement.

If an employee is found to have a standard threshold shift on their annual audiogram of 25 dBA or more in one ear, the shift must be recorded on the company’s OSHA 300 log.


Additional Resources
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NOTICE: This guide may make reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations; however the guide is not legal advice as to compliance with OSHA or other safety laws, codes, or regulations. Compliance with OSHA and other safety laws codes or regulations, and maintaining a safe work environment for your employees remains your responsibility. WCF Insurance does not undertake to perform the duty of any person to provide for the health or safety of your employees. WCF Insurance does not warrant that your workplace is safe or healthful, or that it complies with any laws, regulations, codes, or standards.

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