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Safety Means . . . Never Having to Say You're Sorry (Jan/Feb-08)
Flammables and Combustible Liquids (Nov/Dec-07)
Designing-In Safety NOT Retrofitting Safety (Sep/Oct-07)
Back Safety and Lifting (Jul/Aug-07)
Machine Guarding (May/Jun-07)
Your Hearing Keep it for a Lifetime (Mar/Apr-07)
Light Up the Holidays the Safe Way (Nov/Dec-06)
Would You Risk Your Employee's Life? (Sep/Oct-06)
How to Control Workers' Compensation Costs (Jul/Aug-06)
Compliance with 70E Electrical Standards (May/Jun-06)
OSHA Is on the Move (Mar/Apr-06)
Workplace Violence (Jan/Feb-06)
The Aging Workforce (Nov/Dec-05)
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Safety Is Everyone's Business (Mar/Apr-05)
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Safe Driving (Nov/Dec-04)
Terror In The Skies Revisited (Sep/Oct-04)
How They Got Hurt (Jul/Aug-04)
In-Plant Air Monitoring & Analysis (May/Jun-04)
Safety on the Job and Complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act (Mar/Apr-04)
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Machine Safety – Are Your Machines Safe to Operate? (Sep/Oct-03)
Summer is Here (Jul/Aug-03)
Working Safely On Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklifts) (May/Jun-03)
Does Your Safety and Health Workplace Program Contain All of These Elements? (Mar/Apr-03)
Methylene Chloride (Jan/Feb-03)
Safety Signs & Labels - Does Your Facility Comply? (Nov/Dec-02)
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When OSHA Arrives (Jul/Aug-02)
Facts About the Occupation Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) (May/Jun-02)
Workplace Fire Safety (Mar/Apr-02)
OSHA 300 Form (Jan/Feb-02)
Preparing for Disaster (Nov/Dec-01)
How Much is a Life Worth? (Sep/Oct-01)
Material Handling Programs (Jul/Aug-01)
It's Up To You To Protect Your Skin (May/Jun-01)
When You’ve Been Handed the Responsibility for Safety (Mar/Apr-01)
A Fresh Look at Machine Safeguarding (Jan/Feb-01)
Safe Work Habits (Nov/Dec-00)
The Importance of Material Safety Data Sheets (Sep/Oct-00)
Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (Jul/Aug-00)
Lockout/Tagout Program (May/Jun-00)
OSHA Violations, Citations and Penalties for 1998 (Mar/Apr-00)
Erogonomics and Machinery Safeguarding (Jan/Feb-00)
General Machine Principles (Nov/Dec-99)
SAFETY SOLUTIONS
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SAFETY SOLUTIONS: Your Hearing: Keep it for a Lifetime

Every year, approximately 30 million people in the United States are occupationally exposed to hazardous noise. Most of us go through life taking our senses for granted. Like touching, tasting, smelling and seeing; hearing is something we do automatically, without giving it much thought. But when something goes wrong with any of our senses, including our hearing, we expect that medical science has a miracle to offer. Unfortunately, medicine offers only moderate improvement for people with hearing loss. Hearing loss cannot be restored for most people. Many people suffer some degree of hearing loss. Farmers, construction workers, people exposed to constant loud noise on the job, home or through their hobbies (even fans of loud music), have at least one thing in common; they are at risk of permanent hearing loss. Let’s look at hearing loss and how it can be prevented.

Exposure to normal noise levels doesn’t cause hearing loss. Hearing loss occurs because of overexposure to high noise levels. Noise is measured in units called “decibels.” The higher the decibel, the louder the noise. To help you see the difference in the decibel scale, look at these examples of various noise levels:

  • 20 decibels - soft whisper
  • 30 decibels - leaves rustling, very soft music
  • 60 decibels - normal speech, background music
  • 85 decibels - heavy machinery with soundproof cab
  • 90 decibels - lawnmower, shop tools
  • 100 decibels - heavy machinery without soundproof cab, motorcycles
  • 115 decibels - loud music, sand blasting
  • 140 decibels - jet engine, shotgun
In the workplace, hearing protection must be used to reduce noise exposure for any one who is generally exposed to 90 decibels or more over the course of their workday. Hearing protection may be used at lower levels, particularly for people who are very close to the 90 decibel exposure level. Sounds above 120 decibels can cause hearing damage after only a brief exposure and should be avoided unless hearing protection is worn.

Speaking of hearing protection, you’ve probably seen lots of different types. Keep in mind that not every type of hearing protection is good for every type of noise. Disposable foam earplugs may be fine for some noise exposure. Earmuff-type protection may be suitable for another.

Expandable Foam Plugs

These plugs are made of a formable material designed to expand and conform to the shape of each person’s ear canal. Roll the expandable plugs into a thin, crease-free cylinder. The final result should be a smooth tube thin enough so that about half the length will fit easily into your ear canal. Some individuals, especially women with small ear canals, have difficulty rolling typical plugs small enough to make them fit. A few manufacturers now offer a small size expandable plug.

Pre-Molded, Reusable Plugs

Pre-molded plugs are made from silicone, plastic or rubber and are manufactured as either “one-size-fits-most” or are available in several sizes. Many pre-molded plugs are available in sizes for small, medium or large ear canals.

A critical tip about pre-molded plugs is that a person may need a different size plug for each ear. The plugs should seal the ear canal without being uncomfortable. This takes trial and error of the various sizes. Directions for fitting each model of pre-molded plug may differ slightly depending on how many flanges they have and how the tip is shaped. Insert this type of plug by reaching over your head with one hand to pull up on your ear. Then use your other hand to insert the plug with a gentle rocking motion until you have sealed the ear canal.

Advantages of pre-molded plugs are that they are relatively inexpensive, reusable, washable, convenient to carry, and come in a variety of sizes. Nearly everyone can find a plug that will be comfortable and effective. In dirty or dusty environments, you don’t need to handle or roll the tips.

Canal Caps

Canal caps often resemble earplugs on a flexible plastic or metal band. The earplug tips of a canal cap may be a formable or pre-molded material. Some have headbands that can be worn over the head, behind the neck or under the chin. Newer models have jointed bands increasing the ability to properly seal the earplug. The main advantage canal caps offer is convenience. When it’s quiet, employees can leave the band hanging around their necks. They can quickly insert the plug tips when hazardous noise starts again. Some people find the pressure from the bands uncomfortable. Not all canal caps have tips that adequately block all types of noise. Generally, the canal caps tips that resemble stand-alone earplugs seem to block the most noise.

Earmuffs

Earmuffs come in many models designed to fit most people. They work to block out noise by completely covering the outer ear. Muffs can be “low profile” with small ear cups or large to hold extra materials for use in extreme noise. Some muffs also include electronic components to help users communicate or to block impulsive noises. Workers who have heavy beards or sideburns or who wear glasses may find it difficult to get good protection from earmuffs. The hair and the temples of the glasses break the seal that the earmuff cushions make around the ear. For these workers, earplugs are best. Other potential drawbacks of earmuffs are that some people feel they can be hot and heavy in some environments.

Because many people like the comfort of foam plugs, but don’t want to roll them in dirty environments, a plug is now available that is essentially a foam tip on a stem. You insert this plug much like a pre-molded plug without rolling the foam. Scientists are developing earmuffs using high-tech materials to reduce weight and bulk, but still effectively block noise. On the horizon may be earplugs with built in twoway communication capability.

Still, the best hearing protector is the one that is comfortable and convenient and that you will wear every time you are in an environment with hazardous noise. It is the employer’s responsibility to assess noise exposures and provide appropriate hearing protection as needed for everyone in the workplace. It is the worker’s responsibility to use the protection consistently and correctly. Hearing protection is no use if it’s not worn.

Keep in mind that equipment operators aren’t the only ones who may need protection. Other people who work nearby may be exposed to too much noise, too. If you work in a noisy area-even if you’re not the one making the noise, be aware of the hazard and use protection.

Another thing that might cause unnecessary noise exposure is poorly-maintained equipment. Keeping equipment properly lubricated and in good condition helps keep down the noise. If you become aware of noisy equipment that hasn’t been noisy before, report the condition so proper hearing protection can be provided until necessary repairs are made.

Away from the workplace hearing protection is your total responsibility. Don’t risk your hearing for the sake of a hobby. Keep the music at a reasonable level. It may be hard to admit, but if other people tell you your stereo is too loud, it probably is! If you ride a motorcycle or another noisy vehicle, protect your hearing. In your workshop, use hearing protection that’s appropriate to protect against the noise.

Think of those sounds you take for granted and imagine life without them. Don’t let unnecessary exposure to noise take away the sounds of your everyday life. You can do something to help protect your hearing. Take the time to know what protection to use and use it faithfully. Your hearing can last a lifetime with a few common-sense precautions.

For more information, click on the Author Biography link at the top of this page.

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