Food is something that we can sometimes take for granted in today’s hectic and modern world. Millions of food production employees around the globe work tirelessly to ensure the food you and your family consume finds a home on your kitchen table.
It’s not uncommon for these employees to work in noisy conditions. Hearing conservation programs are designed to protect these employees against any potential harm they may encounter in the workplace.
Hearing conservation programs are found in workplaces throughout the United States and Canada. They are designed for the safety of the employees and include things like noise monitoring, providing hearing protection, offering audiometric testing, record keeping, and continuous monitoring.
The process of creating an effective workplace hearing conservation program is never something to be considered lightly, especially when dealing with the unique hurdles found in the food manufacturing industry. Equipping employees with proper hearing protection and educating them on hearing conservation safeguards and best practices is a crucial component to preventing work-related hearing loss.
Typical noise sources in the food manufacturing industry include:
- Compressed air
- Food preparation machinery
- Injection steam for heating
- Conveyor belts
- Pressure washers
- Impact noises
Many moving parts must be taken into account when designing a hearing conservation program, and some elements are unique to food production employees. For example, hearing protectors must not fall into the product and should be easily detectable in the event they do. Manufacturers of hearing conservation equipment help food production companies meet these challenges by including cords on earplugs that can hang behind the neck. These measures significantly reduce the chance of losing earplugs and make retrieval much easier in the event of them dropping into the food ingredients. Earplugs are often colored in bright and bold colors, making detection easier.
Noise-induced hearing loss can happen when employees are exposed to high sound levels for an extended period to sounds exceeding 85 dBA. Noise exposure levels will vary depending on each type of food production.
|Industry||Task||Noise level (dBA)|
|Drinks||Bottle filling/labeling||85 – 90|
|Meat||Power saws||up to 100|
|Packing machinery||85 – 90|
|Milling||Hammer mills||95 -100|
|Grinders||85 – 95|
|Bagging lines||85 – 90|
|Bakery||Dough-mixing roomBread slicing||85 – 90|
Data sourced from WorkSafeBC – https://www.worksafebc.com/en/resources/health-safety/toolbox-meeting-guides/food-processing-how-loud-is-it?lang=en&direct
It’s common for a food manufacturing company to have multiple locations (or plants, or facilities), each with its own staff, processes, and equipment. Hearing conservation programs need to work for all the various departments, workers, and roles of employees exposed to high levels of noise. Most food manufacturing companies enlist the services of a mobile hearing testing company to conduct their audiometric testing. They arrive in trucks outfitted with small sound booths. Employees are scheduled in advance and line up outside the truck awaiting their audiometric test. This model comes with one or more of these common challenges:
Lack of Scheduling Control
Scheduling hearing tests for your food production employees can be a logistical nightmare, especially when trucks are scheduled just once a year. It’s not unusual for mobile hearing testing trucks to be onsite for up to two weeks for larger workforces. This is not the best use of your employee’s time. Many food processing factories operate 24 hours a day, making it very challenging to examine overnight workers during their later shifts as the clinicians in the trucks are not working 24 hours a day.
Establishing an effective method to gather baseline audiometric testing is another crucial component of your food manufacturing company’s hearing conservation program. It’s nearly impossible to get accurate baseline audiograms when trucks need to be scheduled months in advance. Without this testing data, it’s difficult to establish hearing loss timelines for new hires.
High Cost — the Iceberg Effect
Mobile hearing testing trucks are typically hired to come onsite to conduct testing. They are typically furnished with four-to-six sound booths, audiometers, and a desktop computer used to control the testing stations. Operating a fleet of mobile hearing clinics comes with added expenses such as fuel, maintenance, insurance, drivers, calibration costs, and many more that are ultimately passed on to your organization. But there are also many hidden costs — like the 90% of an iceberg’s mass that is underwater.
It’s not uncommon for food manufacturing employees to miss their prearranged hearing test appointment. Vacation, illness, appointments; there are any number of reasons why. Since it is rarely cost-effective to have the trucks return for missed employee hearing tests, those individuals are often sent to an off-site clinic for testing which can be significantly more costly. Additionally, interruption to production won’t be well tolerated. So while your employee is visiting the external clinic, they are likely still be paid for their time while someone else is covering their shift. Quickly, the hidden costs associated with occupational hearing testing start to add up.
The Employee Experience
Every employer strives to ensure an exceptional experience for their staff. For those who are required to participate in the company’s occupational hearing testing program, the experience of having a test performed in the back of a truck in a small, cramped, dated sound booth, is often less than optimal. Employees have to wait in line for their turn, often outside of the truck in a parking lot adjacent to the plant. Temperature controls in the truck may be limited to reduce the noise created by fans or generators. And sometimes that trucks need to park very far from the location where the employee works their shift. In all, testing in a mobile truck is not fun.
It’s Time to Think Outside the Booth with SHOEBOX Audiometry
Forward-thinking food manufacturers are parting ways with their service providers and are bringing their programs in-house. Modern mobile technologies coupled with advanced services are making it possible for employers to take back control of their hearing testing programs.
SHOEBOX Audiometry for Occupational Hearing Testing is a comprehensive solution comprised of iPad-based testing equipment, web-based data management, and a host of optional services including program management and audiological reviews. This solution is enabling employers to end once-per-year testing and adopt a process of testing on a near-daily basis. The highly portable nature of the testing equipment means that testing can be moved close to where the employee works their shift. And because it is optimized for testing outside of a sound booth, testing can be performed in any quiet location. SHOEBOX audiometric testing equipment includes an external Class II microphone, used to perform pre-test room scanning to ensure your room meets OSHA-mandated Maximum Permissible Ambient Noise Levels (MPANLs).
Advanced Data Management
The system’s advanced background noise monitoring ensures that conditions remain favorable throughout the entire test. This technology opens the door for testing in more favorable locations such as meeting rooms, offices, and even employee lounges.
Employee demographics and hearing test records can be set to automatically upload to the secure web portal; users can instantly access all tests and reports through the robust data management platform. SHOEBOX Data Management is a secure, HIPAA-compliant environment for storing and handling patient data and test results.
SHOEBOX isn’t just a software company; they’re also a people company. Their skilled support team is committed to the success of your testing program. They offer a host of services designed to ensure total satisfaction including training, calibration service, and even fleet management. But making the shift from a service provider can also mean taking on additional responsibilities for you, and your team. That’s why SHOEBOX also offers comprehensive Audiological Services. Depending on your company’s needs, these can include:
When you choose SHOEBOX, you have access to our network of licensed audiologists who specialize in occupational health reviews. With coverage across the United States and Canada, they can offer services such as shift determinations, identification and triage of problem audiograms, baseline revisions, and more.
If you require a Hearing Conservation Program Supervisor, our CAOHC-certified PS team offers this additional service to eligible companies.
This complete solution – from equipment to services — provides everything you may need to bring your food production company’s occupational hearing testing program in house. It will give you back control of your testing scheduling. It will help you lower the cost of your program. Not just the cost of outsourcing testing to a service provider, but also the soft-costs of retesting at an outside clinic. And it will help you deliver a much better experience for all of your program participants. No more line ups. No more booth testing.
We’re here to help you make the shift, contact us to get started.
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Jason has a wide range of experience working in a variety of marketing and communications roles. He has a passion for storytelling and looks forward to writing engaging content about hearing health and the last SHOEBOX news.