Noise Protection: What You Need to Know

According to a study from the Center for Construction Research and Training, thousands of construction workers every year experience hearing loss from noise exposure on the worksite. The same study notes that while OSHA has listed the official “permissible exposure limit” (PEL) for construction noise to 90 A-weighted decibels (dBA) over a period of eight hours, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can result from extended exposure of just 85 dBA. Here’s what you need to know about avoiding NIHL.

Know the Statistics

Even if it seems like it isn’t affecting you in the present, NIHL will occur over time if you fail to wear hearing protection. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recognizes hearing loss as the third most common physical condition among adults in the U.S. The CDC reports that about 51% of all construction worker have been exposed to hazardous noise, and 31% of noise-exposed workers report not wearing hearing protection. Out of workers who are regularly exposed to noise, about 25% have a material hearing impairment that impacts their day-to-day activities. About 14% of all construction workers – not just noise-exposed workers – have hearing difficulty, and 7% have tinnitus. By knowing these statistics, you can understand just how pressing of an issue NIHL is for construction workers and react accordingly.

Different Jobs Mean Different Noise Levels

Depending on your job function, the level of noise can greatly vary. According to EHS Today, the loudest tasks within construction include chipping concrete, operating bulldozers, and using a grinding wheel. The loudest tools are a chipping gun, powder-actuated tool, and stationary power tool. If you regularly perform one of these tasks, you are likely already prepared for protecting yourself against noise. However, even if you work in a different trade, working in close proximity to loud noises can still cause hearing loss. Always be prepared and have hearing protection readily available, even if you’re not working directly on a loud task.

Pick the Right Hearing Protection

There are many types of hearing protection options to choose from. OSHA mandates that it is the employer’s responsibility to provide a variety of suitable hearing protection devices for workers. There are generally two categories to choose from: ear plugs or ear muffs. Ear plugs mold and shape to the ear canal, so it is important that you get the correct fit. For this reason, they come in a variety of sizes, styles, and materials, including both plastic and foam. Ear muffs provide full protection by sealing around the ear to protect you from hazardous noises. Electronic ear muffs are specifically designed to simultaneously block dangerous noises and still manage important worksite sounds, such as alarms or warning signals. Decide which fit and material is best for you.

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