Workers usually remember to put on safety glasses when working on job sites with potential eye hazards but the ear protection is often neglected or taken for granted. Working in noisy environments for long hours has been proven to be dangerous for sensitive ears. There are health consequences that go beyond annoyance. Workers, overtime, may develop temporary or even permanent hearing loss. Tinnitus is another hearing condition characterized by persistent ringing noise. These health issues are serious and could affect your work, not to mention your quality of life.
Some workplaces may reduce the noise by dealing with the sources of the noise itself such as inefficient machinery, malfunctioning motors, and so on. But there is only so much you can do to reduce the cause of the noise in a dynamic workplace environment. As part of your occupational health and safety program, providing proper hearing protection may be the best way to prevent hearing problems for your workers.
Noise Levels in the Workplace
Different tools and machineries emit different levels of noise that can be measured in decibels or dB. While a quiet office or a library, on the average, may only have 40 dB of noise, a machine shop or factory may produce noise as much as 100 dB or more. In this case, workers need to be equipped with earmuffs, earplugs or both to reduce the noise levels and protect their ears. Jet engines or airplanes taking off produce such a dangerous level of noise, exposure must be limited to reduce the risk of hearing loss.
Guidelines for Noise Exposure
Standards are set to limit the safe and permissible exposure time to different noise levels. According to NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), it’s not safe to expose workers to 85dB noise for more than 8 hours. A 115 dB level of noise is not safe all for the naked ears.
Always check for the NRR or Noise Reduction Rate when choosing your ear protection – the higher the NRR, the better. It’s recommended that you de-rate the NRR on the label though to compensate for fit that factors in how efficiently the earplugs or earmuffs can protect the ears.
- Earmuffs – Subtract 25 % from the listed NRR
- Formable Earplugs – Subtract 50% from the listed NRR
- All other Earplugs – Subtract 70% from the listed NRR
Maximum Protection Provided by Non-Continuous Use of Hearing protection
For maximum protection, don’t remove your hearing protection while in the noisy workplace. The percentage of usage greatly affects the protection rate of the earplugs or earmuffs. If you reduce usage to 50%, your protection level decreases ten times. In the example illustrated below, an ear protection meant to reduce noise by 30 dB will fall drastically to only 3 dB of protection if worn half the time.
Hearing loss is very preventable with the right ear protection. Don’t wait for your hearing to deteriorate before donning earplugs or earmuffs. The sense of hearing is just as precious as the sense of sight. It’s only when hearing is lost do you realize just how much.
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