Occupational Hearing Conservation

Hearing Healthcare and Occupational Hearing Conservation Programs

Hearing Conservation

Sound is a constant presence in our everyday lives. We are always exposed to noise from a wide variety of sources — the radio, television, traffic, family, friends, colleagues, etc. This kind of noise generally presents no risk and shouldn’t cause any kind of damage to our hearing. But when that noise we are exposed to becomes too loud, it can become dangerous. Both brief bursts or consistent exposure pose a threat to one’s overall hearing health. It can cause damage to the sensitive structures in the inner ear and ultimately result in some level of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). The consequence of consistent exposure to loud noise

The consequence of consistent exposure to loud noise

NIHL may become evident immediately or take some time before it is noticeable. It can affect one ear or both. And it may be temporary or permanent. Those who suffer NIHL  may start to notice that they are constantly asking people to repeat themselves, especially when speaking on the phone, or that they can’t understand the conversations happening around them. Going anywhere busy and noisy becomes unpleasant, and it is not uncommon for sufferers to begin to retreat socially. According to the World Health Organization, 360 million people across the world suffer from disabling hearing loss. Hearing loss is a disability that we tend to overlook. That is, until it’s too late. Regardless of when or how it might affect those around you, one thing is for certain, Noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable.

How much noise is too much?

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to monitor noise levels for its employees and states that exposure to sound levels at 85 decibels (dB) over an 8-hour work day is what it considers the “action level” — or the point at which an employer is required to take certain steps to reduce the effects of noise on hearing. At this level, workplace hearing conservation programs should be implemented, and all affected employees should be provided hearing protection.

You may be asking yourself, what exactly does 85dB sound like? A few examples of noise over 85dB are a food blender, a passing diesel truck, a snow blower,  a lawn mower etc. These are nothing in comparison to what industrial workers are exposed to on a daily basis. Tools such as a jackhammer, a tractor, a chainsaw or a handheld drill all produce noise well over 100dB. Periods of exposure to these kinds of noise levels can have serious repercussions on your hearing health.

The requirements of an Occupational Hearing Conservation Program

For those who work in noisy environments like the ones described above, workplace hearing conservation programs are designed to help assure safe and healthy working conditions for all men and women. As mandated by OSHA, these programs are required to meet a certain level of standards to ensure maximum safety in the workplace. Unwanted noise is one of the most pervasive occupational health issues, and it is the responsibility of the employer to implement and enforce hearing conservation/hearing loss prevention programs as a way of preventing workers’ hearing loss.

These programs typically include a combination of hearing protection devices, training, exposure monitoring, and annual occupational hearing testing.

Annual Audiometric Testing

Audiometric testing is the process of tracking and managing a worker’s hearing health over time, regardless of whether you employ tens or thousands of employees. The essential elements of the program include a baseline audiogram, annual hearing tests, training, and follow-up procedures. The baseline test is just that – a starting point from which all other workplace hearing tests are compared.  Once a baseline has been established, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that each year the employee has a hearing test and that if there has been any shift as compared to the baseline audiogram, the employee is immediately sent for follow-up treatment. The ability to effectively track and manage these shifts should be considered a critically important component of the program and will help you make decisions when selecting either a technology partner or a service provider.

New advances in audiometry are having a dramatic impact on how many companies are implementing and managing their hearing conservation programs. Mobile, tablet audiometry makes it possible to perform clinically validated hearing testing in any reasonably quiet environment meaning that shipping sound booths across the country in transport trucks is no longer the only way to perform occupational hearing testing.

We are working on a new article now that outlines the incredible benefits of automated tablet audiometry. We will share how SHOEBOX is changing the occupational industry with its clinically validated, easy-to-use, cost-effective, and portable iPad audiometer. Stay tuned for our next article, but if you would like to learn more about SHOEBOX and how you can use it in your hearing conservation program.

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