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Ask the Audiologist: What Are the Basics of a Hearing Conservation Program?

Ask the Audiologist: What Are the Basics of a Hearing Conservation Program?

Our sense of hearing contributes to our safety by making us aware of our surroundings and helping us communicate. In the workplace, hearing loss can increase the risk of accidental injuries, as it takes away some of the abilities that help us have a good understanding of the conditions in the work environment. 

Occupational noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs in many industries, but the people working in agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, utilities, transportation, and the military are more exposed to dangerous levels of noise. Furthermore, studies show the risk of hearing loss increases by work duration.

According to the  Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a hearing conservation program is required “whenever employee noise exposures equal or exceed an 8-hour time-weighted average sound level (TWA) of 85 decibels measured on the A scale (slow response) or, equivalently, a dose of fifty percent.” 

This means that employers are required to monitor all employees whose noise exposure exceeds 85dBA during the course of 8 hours. During a recent webinar, Honeywell research audiologist Jackie DiFrancesco explained the fundamentals of an effective hearing conservation program in the workplace.  

The key elements of a hearing conservation program:

1.       Noise monitoring - this is measuring the noise levels in the workplace, the intensity, or loudness, and the duration. You can use either:

area monitoring - measure the average levels in the workplace using a sound level meter.

OR

- personal noise (dosimetry) - the worker wears a microphone clipped on the shoulder, near the ear, and exactly what they're exposed to all day is measured, which gives a more accurate measurement of unprotected noise exposure. 

2.       Audiometric testing - the annual hearing test for all employees that are enrolled in the hearing conservation program. It has to be done in an appropriate test environment, like an audio booth or a very quiet room.

3.       Hearing protection selection and fit testing - the employer must provide hearing protection in a variety of types with suitable attenuation characteristics. Earplug fit-testing determines if employees are receiving optimal protection for their noise environment, require additional training, or need a different model of hearing protector. Honeywell Howard Leight’s VeriPro Fit-Testing System offers an accurate picture of employees’ hearing protection. It features a three-part process that checks the effectiveness of an employee’s earplug fit in each ear over a range of frequencies. All the measured data can be collected, stored, and uploaded to a cloud system for graphical display and analysis.

4.       Employee training and education - training should include information on the effects of noise, information on hearing protectors, an explanation of a hearing test, and information on the hearing conservation program itself and what is expected of the employee for the program. 

5.       Record keeping – employers should document the workers’ hearing history. When they first start the job, they should have a baseline hearing test, then an annual audiogram after that to look for any changes. All these, along with any evidence of training and education should be kept as a record, as well as any fit-testing results or other relevant documents.

6.      Program evaluation - constantly evaluate the performance of the program, by asking for employee feedback and reviewing responsibilities and records.

Listen to the entire webinar to also learn more about:

  1. What is an attenuation rating and how do you calculate it? How much attenuation do you need? 
  2. What is a PAR? 
  3. When do you need dual protection?
  4. How do you read an audiogram? 

 

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