|"There are two factors that make noise
particularly hazardous in the woodworking industry. The first is the worker's proximity to the noise source, and secondly, the intermittent nature of the noise makes it deceptively
— Brad Witt
|There are a wide range of hearing protection devices available, designed for specific applications and worker preferences.
Photo courtesy of Bacou-Dalloz
Witt: OSHA requires employers to provide "a variety of suitable hearing protectors" at no cost to the employee. While "variety" is not specified, it is good practice to include a robust offering. Everyone's ears are different, and one earplug or earmuff style may not be comfortable for the entire workforce. A wide range of hearing protection devices are available, designed for specific applications and/or worker preferences, ranging from dielectric and cap-mounted earmuffs to no-roll foam earplugs that facilitate communication, and banded earplugs that can be quickly inserted during intermittent noise. Employers should offer workers several different styles, including single- and multiple-use earplugs, as well as earmuffs. Also, include a group of workers from different areas in the selection process to improve buy-in and compliance.
W&WP: Are there any steps, other than providing hearing protection to employees, a woodworking company can do to lessen stress on its employees' hearing?
Witt: The first line of defense against noise is to use engineering and administrative controls. Examples include adding mufflers or vibration dampeners, isolating noisy equipment to an enclosed room, or moving dust collection units farther away from workers. It's also wise to implement "buy quiet" policies in the purchase of equipment. But if these controls are not feasible or effective, then hearing protection is our only available option.
W&WP: Will the use of proper hearing protection equipment save a company money in regards to insurance? What, if any, are the penalties a company will face for not following proper procedures in regard to protecting workers from hazardous noise?
Witt: To determine which parts of OSHA regulations were cited most frequently, we reviewed five years of compliance inspections (more than 10,000 citations from 2000 to 2004). We found that the vast majority of offenses were for simply not having a hearing conservation program in place — not doing the basics like noise measurements and audiometric testing. But to be honest, the greatest liability in not having hearing conservation measures in a noisy workplace is not OSHA non-compliance, but rather compensation claims for hearing loss. Insurance carriers recognize and typically reward companies with an effective hearing conservation program in place.
W&WP: What are some things a woodworking company can do to motivate workers to use hearing protection?
Witt: Train all workers, especially new employees, in the hazards of noise exposure, both on and off-the-job. Demonstrate to them the future risk of hearing loss. There are several very good audio demonstrations of noise-induced hearing loss available to play in training sessions. Clearly mark the noise-hazardous areas of your facility. Require compliance from everybody entering that area, including managers and visitors. And try to remove the barriers to wearing hearing protection, by offering a variety of comfortable hearing protectors.
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