Hearing Protection Checklist offered by ACOEM

Recognizing the hazards of occupational noise exposure, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) has selected hearing protection as the focus of its annual Labor Day CheckList.

"Tips for Protecting Hearing in the Workplace" offers practical suggestions for ways employees and employers can eliminate or reduce noise-related problems at work. The tips also include recommendations regarding lifestyle and recreational activities.

Employees are asked to report noisy equipment, activities and work areas, and participate in noise dosimetry testing. They should support the use of engineering controls that decrease noise levels, according to the checklist, as well as observe monitoring procedures and make sure they are notified of the results. The tips also suggest taking some quiet time, especially between noise exposures. Finally, employees are told to wear hearing protection and learn how to use it properly.

Employers are told to perform regular safety inspections and assess hearing hazards, use engineering and administrative controls to limit noise, provide a quiet environment for breaks, measure noise levels and provide proper hearing protection devices and training to employees. The tips also suggest evaluating the effectiveness of the hearing conservation program, offering hearing tests to employees who are not exposed to hazardous noise on the job, and maintain accurate records of employee training and hearing tests and noise exposure levels.

Occupational hearing loss is the most common occupational disease in the United States and the second most self-reported occupational illness or injury. More than 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise. Noise higher than 85 decibels (dBA) averaged over eight working hours can begin to cause hearing damage. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), problems created by occupational hearing loss include impaired communication, possible unrelenting tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and lost worker productivity.

"Occupational hearing loss can be prevented," said ACOEM President Edward J. Bernacki, MD, MPH. "But, we can't wait until employees' hearing deficiency begins to affect their quality of life - it is too late then to correct the problem," he continued.

Occupational hearing loss can affect any worker regardless of age, sex or type of job. Compounding the problem is the fact that hearing loss occurs gradually - usually without pain. Even office staff can be affected.

"A ringing telephone alone can register up to 80 dBA," said Paul J. Brownson, MD, chairman of ACOEM's Noise and Hearing Conservation Committee and contributor to the CheckList. "Just think of what happens to the worker who runs a bulldozer all day - at 105 dBA, without the correct hearing protection device, this person is going to suffer major hearing damage."

In addition to Dr. Brownson, a major contributor to the CheckList was Lt. Col. Theresa Schulz, USAF, BSC, PhD, current president of the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC). The CheckList is available on ACOEM's Web site at www.acoem.org.

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