Being able to clearly hear sounds, warnings, discussions, alarms, and alerts on a job site may be something that many of us take for granted. Preventing initial hearing damage and protecting remaining hearing through hearing conservation is critical because hearing is foundational to communication and quality of life – at work and at home.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employees display higher levels of productivity and fewer absences when a hearing conservation program (HCP) is in place.
In addition, a hearing conservation program can take your workplace safety protection to the next level. This article provides seven recommended steps on implementing an effective hearing conservation program.
1) Assess Your Needs
Creating an effective hearing conservation program can ensure the protection of employee health while setting new standards for workplace safety.
Assessing the unique needs of your workplace begins by recording the decibel levels via a noise survey. The results of the survey will reveal at-risk employees and indicate inclusion criteria for the program. Additionally, the noise survey will aid in selecting proper protection devices to help reduce overall risk. Implementing regular hearing checks will allow for the detection of hearing loss and any record changes.
Both equipment and processes can be designed to operate at lower decibel levels, essentially controlling the noise exposure to which employees are subjected. Controlling the noise exposure is a vital first step to a safer hearing environment.
2) Document Past and Current Hazards
OSHA mandates that employees who are exposed to sound levels of 85 dB are required to wear hearing protection equipment, as they are at greater risk for hearing loss. Unfortunately, some workplaces may violate OSHA’s safety requirements, contributing to an environment susceptible to severe hazards and citations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly 22 million employees are exposed to potentially hazardous noise at work each year.
Exposure to loud noises over time can result in permanent hearing loss. This type of hearing loss can’t be corrected by surgery or medicine. However, when regulations are met and employees wear mandated hearing protection, such as earplugs, their noise reduction rating (NRR) lessens their noise exposure.
3) Securing Support and Engagement
Hearing conservation programs are part of an overall safe work environment within your company. Educating employees on hearing loss symptoms and proper use of hearing protection strengthens the success of hearing loss prevention efforts. It’s important for everyone to understand that the effects of exposure to loud noise may emerge gradually or be discovered in later stages.
As part of an occupational HCP, proper training should be required by the employer. Training should address employee education, attitude, and behaviors in an active learning environment. Training on how to properly insert earplugs can be crucial in saving a worker’s residual hearing and improving their overall communication.
Be sure to document training efforts to reinforce understanding and demonstrate compliance with regulations.
4) Document the Program
To successfully manage a hearing conservation program, companies should create and maintain documentation on the program. The updated information gathered will allow your company to grow from its current state and develop goals for the new program.
Plan to document:
- Noise surveys
- Preventative actions taken
- Audiometric tests
Program evaluations, including employee feedback, responsibility reviews, and cost analysis, should be completed regularly to identify problem areas and show continuous improvement.
5) Assemble a Hearing Protection Committee
The first step to implementing your company’s hearing conservation program is assembling a hearing protection committee. Each member of the committee should have a defined role. Over time, the committee will be responsible for guiding opportunities for improvement and open communication between management and employees.
6) Selecting Hearing Protection Equipment
Selecting the right hearing protection equipment, including earplugs or earmuffs, is crucial to worker safety. As an employer, you should find the right comfort, fit, and protection level for your employees. Workers may not wear hearing protection devices due to a lack of availability or lack of comfort. An individual fit test and readily available supplies are vital to a successful hearing conservation program.
Employees may feel more invested in the process when their personal preference is considered, leading to greater compliance with the HCP and overall hearing loss prevention.
7) Boosting Compliance
Once your program is in place, the next step is maintaining compliance over time. Employers can reward compliance while also addressing non-compliance. Create a workplace that rewards safe and proper hearing protection by educating employees on the overall significance of hearing conservation. Encourage accountability by recruiting a hearing protection steward in each department. These individuals should positively reinforce safe protection practices and educate new team members.
To praise workers who follow compliance, consider creating incentives such as newsletter success stories, a VIP parking spot, a vacation day, or treats for the department. What better way to motivate workers than to educate and reward?
Putting It All Together
The creation of a hearing conservation program can efficiently maintain and protect employees’ hearing health in hazardous noise environments. Training, proper education, and regular updates are all vital factors to a successful HCP.