Whether you spend most of the day at a computer or traveling to job sites, your daily activities may put you at risk of hearing loss. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 22 million workers in the United States are exposed to hazardous noise levels each year.
Employees may suffer physical or emotional pain as a result of exposure to such noise. Additionally, businesses may have to deal with worker compensation claims, productivity losses, and challenges with recruiting and retaining employees.
But how loud is too loud?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), noise is considered hazardous when it reaches 85 decibels on the A scale (dBA) or higher.
Here are three actions your business can take to help protect employees from noise-related injuries:
Know the signs and symptoms. Hearing loss warning signs and symptoms to be aware of include:
- Temporary hearing loss after leaving work areas with elevated or high noise exposures (85 dBA and 90 dBA, respectively)
- Ringing or humming in the ears when away from work areas
- Difficulty hearing coworkers who are located close by (an arm’s length away)
Identify “hot spots” that may put workers at risk. To identify the types of activities and locations where workers may be most at risk for exposure:
- Observe work environments to identify sites where sound levels may be elevated
- Ask employees what workplace situations they think put them at risk for hearing damage
- Work with your safety team to investigate these areas and measure sound levels. Certain mobile apps can measure noise and approximate exposure; however, using a calibrated sound level meter, with an accuracy of +/-2 dBA or better, is the most accurate way to assess an employee’s exposure.
Protect your employees from excessive noise. OSHA outlines requirements for businesses when noise reaches specific levels in the workplace:
- Hearing conservation program: If noise equals or exceeds 85 dBA on average during the course of a workday, implement a hearing conservation program that addresses hearing protection, audiometric testing to monitor an employee’s hearing levels compared to initial hearing benchmarks, and employee training on the effects of noise and steps to take to limit noise exposures and the potential for hearing loss.
- Operational controls: If noise exceeds 90 dBA on average during the course of a workday, also implement operational controls, such as adjusting an employee’s schedule or activities, changing equipment, providing ear plugs, or making other physical changes, to reduce workplace noise exposures.
Liberty Mutual Insurance is a leading provider of a full range of commercial insurance coverages and services to businesses of all sizes. Each day, the company works with customers to protect their businesses and keep their workplaces safe for employees and the public.
Noise level source for interactive asset: Noise Navigator™ Sound Level Database. Elliot H. Berger, Rick Neitzel, and Cynthia A. Kladden.
This article was produced by Liberty Mutual Insurance and not by the Quartz editorial staff.