Twenty-two million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at work each year, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Last year, U.S. business paid more than $1.5 million in penalties for not protecting workers from noise. What’s more, noise hazards cost businesses an estimated $242 million annually in Workers’ Compensation.
Now the Department of Labor (DOL), OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and other agencies are looking to reduce workplace exposure and related hearing loss. They are holding a competition, “Hear and Now – Noise Safety Challenge,” which is being held to encourage investors and entrepreneurs to develop a technological solution to hearing-related workplace noise hazards. Idea submissions are due by September 30, 2016. Ten finalists will be invited to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges on October 27 in Washington, D.C. The competition is open to the general public, including OSHA contractors and special government employees.
While innovators continue to look for advanced technology solutions to address noise exposures, it’s important for businesses, including manufacturing operations, to take the problem of noise hazards seriously and do what you can to minimize risks, remain OSHA-compliant, and avoid potential fines. Exposure to workplace noise hazards (high noise levels) can cause a permanent hearing loss that cannot be corrected by surgery or a hearing aid. Even a short-term exposure to loud noise can cause a temporary change in hearing. Short-term effects, such as feeling like your ears are “stuffed up,” or tinnitus (ringing in the ears), may go away after leaving the noisy area. However, repeated exposure to noise hazards can lead to permanent tinnitus or hearing loss.
Moreover, in addition to hearing damage, noise hazards can create physical and psychological stress, reduce employee productivity, interfere with communication and concentration and contribute to workplace accidents and injuries by making it difficult to hear warning signals.
Easy on the Ears
When is noise considered a hazard? OSHA sets legal limits on noise exposure in the workplace. These limits are based on a worker’s time-weighted average over an eight-hour day. For workers in general industry (manufacturing), employers must implement a Hearing Conservation Program where workers are exposed to a time-weighted average noise level of 85 dBA or higher over an eight-hour work shift. Hearing Conservation Programs, according to OSHA, require employers to measure noise levels, provide free annual hearing exams and free hearing protection, provide training, and conduct evaluations of the adequacy of the hearing protectors in use unless changes to tools, equipment and schedules are made so that they are less noisy and worker exposure to noise is less than the 85 dBA limit.
Noise Management in Your Manufacturing Shop
Machines are constantly pressing, pounding, stamping and grinding in a manufacturing shop, even with modern technology reducing the level of noise as compared to older machines. Here are some recommendations for noise management and to ensure you are in OSHA compliance.
- Machine maintenance — The number-one cost-effective engineering control used to reduce industrial noise hazards is to make sure that all machinery being used is properly maintained. Machinery where metal-on-metal contact is present should be lubricated regularly. This type of ‘preventative maintenance’ can extend the life of machinery and save production time from unexpected failures, a bonus for your business.
- Limits shifts — Limiting exactly how long workers are exposed to noise hazards is an administrative control that can greatly reduce negative health effects.
- Enclose or isolate the noise — If there are large non-human-operated machines in a work area, when possible, move these machines away from workers or into less- populated rooms. If moving the machinery isn’t an option, an enclosure can be built and appropriately labeled to reduce noise levels. If humans are required as operators, an enclosure with an entrance can be constructed and proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) provided. Working in these enclosures may require a shorter shift, if the level of sound produced inside the enclosure requires it.
- Properly Used PPE — This acts as a last line of defense for one’s ears. Proper PPE to protect hearing includes earplugs and earmuffs, often worn together. PPE should be used either in response to low-level noise hazards or as a temporary solution until the source of the noise can be controlled or modified.
Precision Manufacturing Insurance Services (PMIS) exclusively focuses on insuring the manufacturing industry in California. As part of our insurance products and services, we can assist you in OSHA compliance and in helping to keep your shop a safe environment. To learn more about our business insurance solutions, including our Workers’ Compensation plans and safety programs, please contact us at 855.910.5788.