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A hearing conservation program is much more than just selecting a pair of earplugs. It is understanding your facility’s noise exposure risks, providing adequate controls and hearing protection, and providing annual audiometric testing to screen employees for potential noise induced hearing loss.
While putting the entire program together can seem overwhelming, know that Levitt-Safety can help guide you through every step of the way.
Sound and Occupational Exposure Limits
Sound is a pressure wave that moves through the air. It is measured in decibels (dB), which measure how loud something is, and in frequencies that are measured in hertz (Hz), which measures the pitch of the sound. The measurement most commonly used is dBA, which is shown as a single number to represent how loud an environment is. This weighted average takes the decibel reading at a number of frequencies to account for how efficient the human ear is at hearing sounds at each of them.
For occupational exposure limits (OELs) in Canada, the typical allowance is for less than 85 dBA across the work shift.
Determining Your Noise Exposure Risks
Noise can be measured through two different devices, each of which are meant to accomplish two different tasks: noise dosimeters and sound level meters.
A noise dosimeter is a personal sound monitor that measures a single worker’s exposure to noise levels.
Dosimeters are typically small instruments often worn on the shirt collar or lapel, and located as close to the ear as possible to accurately represent the noise exposure the worker experiences. These reading are taken almost exclusively in dBA to account for an accurate representation of the noise the worker experiences during their shift.
Sound level meters are handheld instruments that take noise readings. Sound level meters come in a variety of forms that can measure with or without weighted averages, and typically have the ability to provide octave band filters that can separate out noise levels into their respective frequencies.
Sound level meters are useful for environmental controls or creating noise maps of your facility to find where the most noise is being created.
Protecting Workers from Noise Exposure
You can protect your workers by putting up sound dampening panels that absorb sound to stop it from reverberating and bouncing all over your facility. These panels can be difficult to install correctly to achieve the proper sound levels, but they can help you control your sound levels.
You should also provide proper hearing protection, including earplugs, bands, or muffs. These will block the amount of noise entering the ear and help protect against noise-induced hearing loss.
Screening Employees for Hearing Loss
Audiometric testing is performed with an instrument called an audiometer. An audiometer produces a tone at a particular frequency (pitch) and decibel (volume). The person being tested must acknowledge whether or not they hear it. The audiometric test will find the limit of the lowest decibel sound that an individual can hear at the different frequencies to create a hearing profile.
A single test does not show a lot. Workers should have an audiometric test performed when they are first hired as a baseline. This baseline test can then be compared to the annual test of their hearing to monitor for shifts or changes in their hearing that could potentially indicate noise-induced hearing loss.
Audiometric testing is important so that these shifts in hearing can be caught and the problem addressed with the working environment (shorter working hours or installing sound dampening panels), providing better hearing protection, or better training on avoiding noise-induced hearing loss.
Levitt-Safety distributes audiometric instruments and hearing conservation products from top manufacturers including:
- Smart Tone
- Quest by 3M
- Eckel Industries
- Workplace Integra
- EAR by 3M, and
- Howard Leight by Honeywell.