Workers can be subjected to extreme noise volumes in several types of industries, and excessive exposure can have many adverse impacts on their health. In several cases, the effects are irreversible.
What is excessive noise exposure?
According to Alex Berti, Training Manager at Honeywell General Safety, working eight hours straight in an environment where the ambient noise reaches 85 decibels (dB) can be as damaging in the long term as being exposed to intense noise volumes for a short period of time; for example, a jet engine at 120 dB. “Indeed, if you must shout to be understood at a distance of no more than an arm’s length, there is a risk of excessive noise exposure,” specifies Mr. Berti.
Negative impacts on hearing after excessive noise exposure
In addition to the risk of ringing in the ears (tinnitus), short-term exposure to very loud sounds can cause temporary hearing loss, also called acoustic trauma or temporary hearing handicap. A complete recovery may take from a few hours to several days. Prolonged exposure to noise can cause tinnitus or even permanent hearing loss, or permanent hearing handicap. Hearing loss often happens gradually and is not obvious to detect. “Unfortunately, most workers only realize this when it is too late; at retirement, when they do not hear the voice of their grandchildren,” emphasizes Mr. Berti.
“Exposure to excessive noise in a working environment not only has physical repercussions on the workers, but also psychological ones,” offers the specialist. According to him, among the most common issues are anxiety, depression, stress, sleep disturbance, loss of focus, and may even cause high-pressure problems to the cardiovascular system.
How to protect the workers’ health?
According to Mr. Berti, “the most efficient technique to protect the workers’ health is to reduce noise at the source using engineering measures, or to limit exposure time.” As it is often impossible to lower the noise level in many work environments, “the employer has the obligation to provide its employees with minimum hearing protection to limit the noise level reaching their ears.”
Choosing the right hearing protection for your employees
On this topic, Mr. Berti claims that regardless of the type of protection used, “hearing protectors must be adapted to the worker’s task and to the equipment used, such as a hard hat or face protection for example, to provide adequate protection. The protectors must fit tightly and be comfortable enough for the workers to wear during the whole period of noise exposure.”
Among the different types of hearing protectors, there are:
- Earplugs, custom-made, disposable or reusable, inserted into the external auditory canal.
- Aural protectors or banded earplugs consisting of two earbuds at the opening of the auditory canal by a rigid band.
- Headbands or earmuffs are composed of noise attenuation material and soft cushions that fit around the ear, as well as rigid earplugs held using a headband.
If hearing protection is essential in your workplace, you need to adopt a comprehensive program of hearing conservation. Your plan must include noise assessment, audiometry, selection, adjustment, maintenance and verification of hearing protectors, training, awareness of health workers and program evaluation.
To develop your hearing conservation program or proceed to the fit testing of your hearing protectors, do not hesitate to contact the professionals of SPI Health and Safety.