Guarding employee hearing is a sound investment for each workplace.
Hearing loss not only affects the worker’s wellness and quality of life, but also impacts the business’s profits and productivity. Sanford OccMed partners with businesses to develop hearing conservation strategies that minimize employee hearing loss, improve work safety and meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration-mandated requirements.
Protecting employees from hearing loss
The starting point for any employer is knowing how much noise an employee is exposed to in a day. By assessing sound levels, Sanford OccMed can determine if a hearing conversation program is necessary.
“We really like to know the businesses we work with and the work environments of the workers we evaluate and treat. Our team visits the worksite to complete a spot check, and the industrial hygienist measures sound levels throughout the workspaces within the business,” said Michael Lockheart, M.D., an occupational medicine doctor at Sanford Health.
If an employee is exposed to an average of 85 decibels of noise or higher for eight hours, which OSHA calls the eight-hour time-weighted average, then an employer must implement an effective hearing conversation program. This includes noise measurements, provision of hearing protection, audiometric testing, training and record keeping. As noise levels increase, more stringent measures are required.
“We have employees wear a personal noise monitoring device to measure the total amount of daily noise exposure. Once the business knows the employees exposed at or near 85 decibels, the company can encourage these workers to use hearing protection,” Dr. Lockheart said.
Chemical and toxin exposures are also a concern, as they accelerate hearing loss. Sanford OccMed can recommend protective strategies for employees who work with solvents, lead and carbon monoxide alongside noise exposure.
Traveling to your worksite
When a business needs to participate in a hearing conversation program, Sanford OccMed has a mobile unit that is able to come to the worksite. This makes it easier for employers to get their employees tested, while limiting lost time and productivity. Sanford OccMed completes a baseline hearing test, called an audiogram, and annual audiograms thereafter.
“We monitor hearing over time,” Dr. Lockheart said. “When we start to see hearing loss, it gives us the opportunity to intervene early — before hearing loss is severe enough to affect day-to-day life. Our physicians review the audiograms and provide a business guidance on hearing conservation based on the worker’s individual needs.”
Reducing noise exposure
“By screening regularly, we can see any changes,” Dr. Lockheart said. “If a group of people in a certain area is losing hearing, we work with the business’s safety director to figure out how to reduce exposure and help the workforce.”
Personal protective equipment, like ear muffs and plugs, are really the last line of defense. Sanford OccMed aims for businesses to put their effort into reducing noise exposures as much as possible. For those situations where reducing the exposure is not possible, Sanford OccMed is there to ensure employees have the right hearing protection and are using it appropriately.
“I always stress to employers and employees to protect hearing no matter where you are. Your ears do not care where the noise came from; you are at risk of losing hearing just the same,” said Dr. Lockheart.
“I encourage employer groups we work with to allow employees to bring hearing protection home to protect hearing where they are less monitored. The cost of hearing protection is so minor compared to the cost of losing hearing. Employees can prevent hearing loss by using plugs or muffs at the workplace, and those same plugs and muffs prevent hearing loss outside of the workplace.”
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