Hearing Conservation programs are required to protect the hearing of employees where workplace sounds, or occupational noises, are loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss. Occupational noise is defined by OSHA as unwanted sound and is a by-product of many processes across a wide range of occupations. Exposure to high levels of noise cause hearing loss and the extent of damage depends primarily on the intensity of the noise and the duration of the exposure.
A hearing conservation program is designed to protect workers with significant occupational noise exposures from hearing impairment even if when subjected to noise exposures over their entire working lifetimes. OSHA establishes permissible exposure limits for occupational noise, with an action level of 85 decibels (dB) averaged over an 8-hour workday. As a result, employers are required to monitor employee’s exposures by measuring sound levels. Exposure monitoring can be conducted using sound level meters and noise dosimeters, and should be conducted for employees exposed to constantly elevated sound levels as well as impact sound levels that are not constant, but can still cause hearing impairment. Industrial processes, environmental conditions, and work environments with loud music are all candidates for implementing hearing conservation.
Hearing conservation programs consist of the following elements.
- Evaluation and identification of the noise sources
- Monitoring and sampling of sound levels to which employees are exposed.
- Audiometric testing for effected employees
- Evaluation and selection of hearing protection
Hearing protection may include personal protective equipment, such as earmuffs and earplugs, though evaluating engineering controls such as sound dampening or sound absorbing materials are also part of the assessment. Some work settings may even require acoustic professionals to help identify products that may reduce levels without requiring someone to wear hearing protection.
These elements work together to protect employees from harmful exposures to loud sounds and noise and to provide a medical baseline that tracks hearing loss occurring over time. An occupational health care provider can conduct audiometric testing, while ARC Enterprises provides services supporting the remaining elements of the program to ensure employee safety.