Noise in the industrial workplace is a common problem for many companies and workers. By their very nature, some industrial processes are quite noisy, especially activities such as sawing, smelting or power generation. There is more than one type of noise to be found on the factory or production floor:
- The first is background noise caused by the cumulative sounds of trucks, equipment and other devices which operate simultaneously, setting the ‘noise floor’ for the environment.
- The second type of noise is that which is produced by the worker when he operates certain types of tools or initiates a specific process. In these cases, the worker is usually much closer to the source of the noise.
Both types of noise can have a significant negative effect on the hearing of exposed employees.
What Can You Do to Help:
- Investigate which areas of business produce the most harmful levels of noise. This can be done by measuring the decibel level at the different parts of your facility where workers are present. The lowest acceptable threshold of noise exposure over the course of an 8 hour day is 85 dBA according to the OSHA. Increasing this level by just 2 dBA lowers the amount of time a worker can safely spend in that area by 2 hours. Once noise reaches the 100 dBA range, a 2 hour total exposure is the maximum safe amount. If your noise meters indicate readings at or above these levels, you must take steps to protect the hearing of your workers in order to prevent permanent hearing damage.
- Outfit each of your workers with hearing protection devices. There are many different types that can be used, ranging from plugs which fit in the ear made out of foam or wax to headphone-style units which fit over the head and cup over each ear. These devices can block anywhere from 12 to 40 dBA of sound depending on the fit and materials they are made out of. It may be desirable in some cases to use headphone-style protection that also incorporates a microphone and speaker to allow workers wearing these devices to communicate with each other in a noisy environment.
- Build noise absorbing or deflecting structures around equipment or areas which generate a significant amount of background noise.
In a high-noise environment, hearing loss is not the only health concern facing employees. It may be difficult or impossible to hear shouts of warning or even sirens in the event of a dangerous or emergency situation. If employees are working in a noisy area where heavy equipment such as trucks or lifts are constantly in motion, it is critical to train these employees in the appropriate safety procedures to use when operating equipment.
It is also necessary to train employees to be aware of their surroundings and to let them know that sight will be their primary tool for navigating the environment around them. Necessary information. A system of visual signals may be helpful for those operating heavy equipment to help them communicate with workers on the ground.
Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health 2002, Hearing Conservation. Retrieved June 6, 2008