Friday, September 22, 2006

Hearing Conservation: It's Not Just for the Workplace Anymore

Protecting against hearing loss ...

"Best practices for developing a culture of hearing conservation, both at work and at home.

In the 20-plus years since OSHA implemented detailed noise exposure regulations (29 CFR 1910.95), diligent employers and safety professionals have monitored noise levels, posted warning signs, purchased earplugs and routinely tested employees' hearing. If they've been especially diligent, they've also conducted training programs for new employees, put up posters and established product selection groups to improve employee "buy-in."

Yet, workers continue to suffer noise-induced hearing loss at alarming rates. The cost of noise-induced hearing loss in the United States is now measured in billions (not millions) of dollars annually. What's gone wrong?

Like bringing the proverbial horse to water, setting up a hearing conservation program is the easy part; getting workers to internalize it and act on it is another matter. Nor is the liability for hearing loss just limited to noise levels at the workplace: Risks for noise-induced hearing loss can be just as prevalent off the job as on the job, and are often a lot less noticeable.

Unlike many other occupational hazards (such as chemical or electrical exposures), there are few built-in safeguards or warning signs in off-the-job noise exposures. Lawnmowers, firearms, hobby tools, motor sports and personal music players can contribute to noise-induced hearing loss. At the workplace, the offending noisy equipment is clearly posted with warning signs; but the warnings on consumer products are often tucked away in an obscure, frequently skimmed-over section of the user's manual.

Why should an employer be concerned about an employee's noise exposure off the job? Aside from a healthier worker, liability is one major reason. OSHA-required audiometric testing of exposed workers does not differentiate between occupational and non-occupational noise damage, so employers assume much of the liability for off-the-job noise damage."    (Continued via Occupational Hazards)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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