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Preventing Hearing Loss in Construction and Demolition

While hearing loss is irreversible, the good news is that it’s also preventable.

By Rick Pedley, Contributor

Hearing loss remains an urgent safety issue in the construction and demolition industry. Workers are exposed to various potentially hazardous noises, including explosions, drilling, cutting, sawing, and dumping. Loud noises are often unavoidable during this type of work. It’s crucial that employers protect their workers from permanent hearing damage by providing essential safety equipment, including ear plugs and/or earmuffs.

Identify Unsafe Noise Levels

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires workers to wear hearing protection when workplace noise levels reach or surpass 80 decibels over an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). Studies show the average construction site has a noise level of 80 to 90 decibels. For this reason, construction workers must use hearing protection equipment.

If construction companies and employers aren’t sure if the noise level surpasses this threshold, they can use a sound meter to record the levels based on the worker’s proximity to the sound. Once the problem has been identified, the managers can reduce the risk by setting up sound barriers or moving the workers further away from the sound if possible. More than likely, hearing protection is required for at least some of the crew.

Choose the Right Equipment

When choosing hearing protection equipment, the company should consider the size and fit of this type of personal protective equipment (PPE). If workers need to wear additional safety equipment, such as a respirator or hard hat, ear plugs may be the best choice unless the earmuffs can be worn with the headband on the back without falling off or preventing proper fit of other PPE. The item must stay in place regardless of size or fit while the noise level is at or above 80 decibels.

Workers may prefer earplugs if they only need to wear this equipment during certain times of the day, so they can pop them in when needed. Ear plugs can be disposable or reusable, depending on the noise frequency. Others prefer earmuffs because they stay in place for hours and can be used more than once.

The company should also consider the device’s Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) to see if it protects the user from permanent hearing loss. The earplugs or earmuffs should have an NRR of 20 decibels or more to prevent injury to the person’s ear drums. If the sound level exceeds 100 decibels over an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA), the crew needs to use double hearing protection, which usually means wearing ear plugs underneath earmuffs. When doubling up equipment, workers can add 5 decibels to the noise reduction rating on the item with the higher NRR.

Prevent Lasting Damage

Hearing loss is irreversible and, in some cases, can lead to ringing in your ears, noises sounding more muffled, and difficulty following normal conversations. Consider hearing screening tests for new employees as a defensive way to prevent later claims of work-induced hearing loss or tinnitus.

The construction industry is loud, and workers shouldn’t occupy the worksite without the proper noise protection equipment. Ear plugs and earmuffs make it easy for construction workers to do their jobs when noise is an issue.

Rick Pedley is President and CEO, PK Safety (pksafety.com).

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