Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention

Workers are faced with occupational noise hazards every day. This article provides guidelines and recommendations for employers

and workers to help reduce risks from noise exposure in the workplace.

Risk Factors
Not only differences in exposure conditions affects risk. Certain biological factors – such as gender, age, race/ethnicity, genetics, and general health issues – can influence a worker’s susceptibility to the effects of noise. Since it is not possible to measure the exact susceptibility of any individual worker, all workers must be well-protected. In order to understand why the prevalence and degree of noise-induced hearing loss can vary so much within a group and among groups several factors have been studied.

Prevention programs is currently focused on:
1. Improving our understanding of the risk associated with impulsive noise, and how best to measure impulsive events. An early NIOSH study demonstrated that exposure to impulse noise produced a greater magnitude of hearing loss in animals than an equivalent exposure to continuous noise As exposure assessment is a critical component of assessing the risk from exposures, NIOSH developed a measurement and analysis system for accurately capturing and monitoring exposure to impulsive noise.

2. Improving our understanding of risk factors associated with ethnicity and aging. Surveillance is vital to occupational hearing loss (OHL)  prevention. It makes possible the establishment of estimates for the prevalence and incidence of hearing loss within various industries. Surveillance also enables employers to identify high-risk groups, guide prevention efforts, and evaluate the success or failure of interventions. Without surveillance data, progress in hearing loss prevention efforts cannot be quantified, nor the need for improvement in these efforts.
ISO 1999 provides hearing practitioners with normative data against which a particular exposed population can be compared.
 
3. Understanding hearing loss due to ototoxicants (such as solvents, heavy metals, and asphyxiates) alone or in combination with noise. Ototoxic chemicals can also affect hearing. Some of them can cause hearing loss even without simultaneous excessive noise exposure; others interact with noise to increase the risk to hearing.

Workplace chemicals that can pose a risk to hearing include:
o Organic solvents – e.g., toluene, styrene, xylene, ethylbenzene, trichloroethylene
o Heavy metals – e.g., mercury, lead, trimethyltin
o Asphyxiants – e.g., carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide
o Pesticides

Education and Motivation
Education and motivation sessions are valuable for both management and employees so they will understand that a successful hearing loss prevention program takes commitment, communication, and cooperation. Management should set a high priority on regularly scheduled training sessions, and select articulate, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic instructors. The program implementor, or those who present the sessions, need to make their presentations short, simple, and highly relevant to employees and management. They need to encourage questions and open communication, and they must make sure that all problems receive prompt attention. Employees must contribute to their own education by raising questions and concerns, and by informing program implementors when specific procedures are impractical, suggesting alternatives when possible.

 If hearing loss prevention program personnel fail to provide adequate consideration or follow-up, employees should communicate their concerns to higher levels of management.

Components of hearing conservation programs:
1. Noise exposure monitoring
2. Engineering and administrative controls
3. Audiometric evaluation
4. Hearing protection devices
5. Education and motivation
6. Record keeping
7. Program evaluation
8. Program audit

From: NIOSH

Publishing date: 25/2/2017

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