OSHA, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has long had policies regulating noise in the workplace. Their “Hearing Conservation Program” is designed to protect workers from suffering hearing loss even if they are subject to loud noise exposures over their entire working lifetimes. But navigating the waters of OSHA’s 1910.95 Noise Exposure Standards document can be a difficult (and daunting) task, and many industrial facilities are happy to outsource this task to the nearest hearing protection salesperson. Unfortunately in this case, ignorance isn’t bliss.
Our friends in the world of hearing protection sales are known to solicit industrial facilities for sales by offering free (or reduce priced) dosimetry studies. For next to nothing, they will come and make noise measurements in your facility, only to determine that you should buy their latest brand of earplugs or earmuffs. Of course, this may be a legitimate form of sales, but it’s not the only way to meet the OSHA standards. In fact, according to OSHA, this is the last place you should be looking to meet the requirements and this type of scenario can leave your business vulnerable in several ways. In the event that a business has occupational noise levels that are higher than the allowed limits, the first step is engineered noise control solutions; the last step is hearing protection.
When we are called in to do an independent noise study for an industrial facility, our measurements tend to differ greatly from the reports given by the earplug places. And more often than not, when we read their reports, it shows that the study was done incorrectly or the results were erroneously reported in some avoidable way. Bottom line: most earplug salespeople do not have formal training in acoustics, and it is to their advantage to report high noise levels because it also happens to have a high correlation to meeting their monthly sales goals.
The importance of measuring the noise levels in your facility is not just so you can know how it affects a worker over the course of an eight hour shift. Rather, it is important to know how it affects each of your workers over the course of their entire careers. If the measurements are incorrect, you can inadvertently contribute to gradual hearing loss that may not manifest itself until later in life. The cutting truth about hearing loss is that it’s permanent, and once it’s gone, you cannot get it back.
To protect against lawsuits, businesses need to have access to acoustical tests and reports that will hold up in a court of law. If a former employee sues over permanent hearing loss and pursues damages that could cripple the business, what objective evidence do you have to prove that your business was operating within OSHA regulations?
At the end of the day, an independent acoustical consulting firm can offer you the most objective and accurate measurements. In fact, as professional engineers, it is our duty to protect the health of the workers. Our interest is in measuring the noise levels with precision and developing a report that helps to protect workers and shield your business from unnecessary lawsuits.