Many workers are exposed to potentially hazardous noise. To reduce hearing loss due to these hazards, implementing a hearing conservation program at your company is essential.
The first requirement of a hearing conservation program is for the employer to monitor noise levels and accurately identify employees who are exposed to noise at or above an 85 dB average over an eight-hour workday (or an eight-hour TWA). This exposure measurement must include intermittent and impulsive noise within an 80- to 130-dB range, and must be performed during a typical work situation.
Employers may determine the best method for testing each employee. Monitoring is required if changes in production, process, or controls increase the noise levels. These changes may require additional employees to be monitored. It may also indicate that the hearing protection used previously is no longer sufficient. Employees are entitled to observe exposure monitoring, and they must be notified of the results. Employers may choose how this is done. The equipment used to perform the monitoring must be carefully calibrated to ensure that the noise level measurements collected are accurate. Calibration procedures are unique to each piece of equipment. Employers are responsible to make sure that it is done according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Audiometric testing monitors the sharpness or acuity of an employee’s hearing over time. It also provides an opportunity for you to educate your employees about their hearing and, if necessary, why hearing protection is required.
The audiometric testing must be established and maintained in a program. Baseline and annual audio-grams are two important elements of a hearing conservation program. Employees that are exposed to an action level of 85 dB or above, or measured as an eight-hour TWA, must have audiometric testing available to them at no cost.
The audiometric testing follow-up should indicate whether the program has been successful in preventing employee hearing loss or not. A licensed or certified audiologist (specialist dealing with individuals having impaired hearing), an otolaryngologist (physician specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the ear, nose, and throat), or a physician should review any testing results to determine if there has been any hearing loss.
Your company’s safety professional is responsible to oversee this program in the workplace and the work of the outside professionals, to review problem audiograms, and to determine when referrals are necessary.
An employee may need a referral for further testing when the results are questionable or there is an indication of a medical condition. If additional testing is needed, or the employer suspects ear pathology is caused or aggravated by wearing required protection, the employee should be referred for a clinical audiological evaluation or otological exam
The baseline audiogram is the benchmark against which future audiograms are compared. A baseline should be established within six months of an employee’s initial exposure to noise levels at or above a TWA of 85 dB. Exceptions to this rule, such as the use of mobile test vans to obtain audiograms, require a baseline audiogram to be completed within one year.
Employees, however, must be fitted with, issued, and required to wear hearing protectors for any period exceeding six months from the initial exposure until a baseline can be established.
Employees should not be exposed to workplace noise for 14 hours prior to the baseline audiogram testing. If this is not practical, the employee should wear hearing protection during this time period.
Within one year from the baseline testing, an annual audiometric test must be conducted. These annual tests are critical in identifying any deterioration in hearing ability so corrective action can be taken before hearing loss progresses. Annual testing is done to determine if a standard threshold shift (STS) has occurred. STS is an average shift in either ear of 10 dB or more at 2000, 3000, and 4000 hertz.
If an STS is identified, the employee must be notified within 21 days of their audiometric test. The employee must be fitted or re-fitted with adequate hearing protectors, shown how to use them, and required to wear them. Employees that experience an STS need to have further testing performed. They may also need to seek medical help.
Hearing protectors must be available to all employees exposed to an eight-hour TWA noise level of 85 dB or above. This requirement will ensure that employees have access to protection before they experience hearing loss. Hearing protection must be worn by:
- Employees for any period exceeding six months from the initial exposure to eight-hour TWA noise level of 85 dB or above until they receive their baseline audiograms.
- Employees who have experienced an STS.
- Employees exposed over the permissible exposure limit of 90 dB over an eight-hour TWA.
Hearing protection should be comfortable and adequately reduce the severity of the noise levels for each employee’s work environment. Hearing protection should be selected so that the noise reduction rating (NRR) of the protective device is adequate for the exposure. For details on personal protective equipment selection and noise reduction ratings, see OSHA 1910.95, Appendix B.
Employee training is critical. By helping your 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 dB 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.
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.
WCF Insurance Safety Department
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.