Each year, 22 million employees are exposed to hazardous noises at work, according to OSHA, making hearing loss the most common work-related injury.
Yet, noise-induced hearing loss is often ignored because there are no visible effects. It usually develops over a long period of time and, except in very rare cases, there is no pain. What does occur is a progressive loss of communication, socialization and responsiveness to the environment.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends that workers not be exposed to a noise level exceeding 85 decibels (dBA) over eight continuous hours. The effects of excessive noise exposure are made worse when workers log extended hours. The ears have less time to recover between noisy shifts, and damage can more quickly become permanent.
In 2018, ISO 45001 was established as the new standard for occupational health and safety to reduce the burden of regulation and prevent workplace injuries and fatalities, providing a framework to improve employee safety and create safer working conditions. To ensure employers adhere to these regulations, monitoring provides accurate insights into noise levels and identifies where the problem areas are.
Measuring noise levels and noise exposure is the most important part of a workplace hearing conservation and noise control program. Tools such as handheld sound level meters and dosimeters can help identify locations where there are noise problems, employees who may be affected and where additional noise measurements need to be made.
To represent a worker’s total noise exposure, measurements must be initiated at the beginning of a task. An accurate sampling of daily exposure includes measurements obtained from all individuals and all duties performed.
If individual working patterns are complex, or if the work carried out means it is not practical or safe to conduct noise monitoring with a sound level meter, dosimeters can be used. These small, shoulder-worn devices are designed for personal exposure monitoring and can be worn by employees throughout their entire work shift. Data is instantly recorded and can be downloaded to detail the time history of the noise exposure, highlighting exactly where high exposures occur throughout the day. Workers also can log the times of duties performed, allowing employers to analyze the operations that require more effective noise controls.
Modern noise dosimeters also can record the actual audio, allowing the sound to be played back to determine the basis of the noise exposure (e.g., whether it was from a specific machine or a spontaneous occurrence).
To increase the success of workplace noise monitoring, workers must understand its importance and the long-term negative health effects that could result. If noise monitoring technology is used, quantitative data can be captured that highlights key paths for change to help the organization comply with government standards while effectively protecting the workforce.