Noise Safety and Hearing Protection Training
On-the-job Safety and Off-hours Activities
Most health and safety professionals are well aware that people’s activities during off-work hours can affect their risk of accidents or injuries while on the job. For example, workers who arrive at work fatigued or highly distracted are more prone to accidents because their attention is divided and they are less alert to potential safety hazards. A person’s risk of suffering an occupational accident or injury is influenced by factors such as lack of sleep, use of alcohol or other drugs, attending concerts…. Wait – what?! Attending concerts?
Yes, attending concerts! In this case, the risk we’re talking about is the risk of hearing loss from exposure to loud noise. Noise-induced hearing loss is a significant occupational hazard in some industries, particularly those involving manufacturing or construction.
Noise Damage is Cumulative
Here’s why activities like attending concerts off the job can increase the risk of hearing loss on the job: The regulations in place to protect workers from unsafe levels of occupational noise are based on the assumption that there is NO exposure to loud noise during employees’ non-working hours. But the damage from noise is cumulative over time, and a worker’s ears don’t shut down off work hours. Hearing damage due to noise adds up regardless of where or when the noise exposure occurs, whether on the job or not. And at many concert venues, listeners are exposed to hazardous levels of sound, levels that would be in violation of regulatory standards if they occurred in a work setting.
Recreational Noise Hazards
High-decibel concerts aren’t the only source of excess noise exposure off the job, of course. Earbuds and earphones worn with iPods and other MP3 players can blast sound at high volume straight into the ear. Power tools and yard equipment also generate noise levels that can cause hearing damage over time. Shooting sports are especially dangerous to hearing: One shot from a high-powered rifle can produce nearly as much acoustic energy as the total exposure during a full 40 hours of work in a 90-dBA environment.
Occupational Noise Safety Training
While noise hazards in the workplace are clearly noted and employees are required to wear protective gear, recreational noise hazards don’t usually come with warning labels. The noise safeguards implemented in the workplace will not provide the expected degree of protection against hearing loss for a worker who experiences unprotected exposure to hazardous noise during non-working hours. Therefore, for an occupational noise training program to be most effective, it should include information about recreational noise hazards as well, with recommendations for the use of hearing protection during any activity that can harm hearing.
Workers need to know:
- The kinds of leisure activities that can cause hearing damage over time
- What hearing protection devices are available for their personal use
- Where they can obtain them
- How to use them properly
Employees who follow good hearing protection practices will reduce their own risk of hearing damage (including hearing loss and tinnitus). By incorporating this information into workplace noise safety training, the risk of occupational noise-induced hearing loss will be reduced as well.
About the author:
Sarinne Fox is an engineer and musician who writes about everyday noise concerns. Her website, Noise Help, presents a wide range of ideas for individuals seeking to reduce noise in their lives.