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Hearing Conservation Program

The Hearing Conservation Program is designed to protect employees from hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels in the workplace.  This program is intended to meet the OSHA requirements for general industry outlined in 29 CFR 1910.95 and includes the following components:

  • An assessment of noise exposure
  • Annual audiometric tests of exposed workers
  • Maintenance of noise and hearing data records
  • Noise abatement and/or administrative controls
  • Availability of hearing protectors
  • Employee training and education

OSHA's Noise Exposure Standard requires hearing protection when workers are at risk of noise exposure levels at or above the Action Level of 85 decibels (dBA) in an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).  It is recommended that hearing protectors be used when working with noisy equipment even when exposure levels are below the Action Level.

It is the responsibility of the supervisor to determine whether hearing protection is needed for any operation and to ensure that needed protection is available.  Supervisors should evaluate their work area and complete the PPE Hazard Assessment Form to document when hearing protection is required.

Screening Apps are available to download and may be used as a noise indicator.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Sound Level Meter App is one such tool for a screening evaluation.  Please contact Safety and Risk Management for an official noise evaluation if you suspect that noise levels exceed the action limit.

If the noise is evaluated at or above the action level (85 dBA TWA), then it is required that employers provide the following to affected employees:

  • Annual hearing tests
  • Annual hearing conservation training
  • Hearing protection devices
  • Posted OSHA Noise Standard (29 CFR 1910.95)
  • Area signage indicating required use of hearing protection
  • Notification of the results of the sound survey

If the Noise level exceeds 90 dBA, the OSHA Noise Standard requires that engineering and administrative control measures must be investigated, evaluated and where feasible, utilized to reduce employee exposures.  It is important that any measure investigated, utilized, or evaluated to reduce the noise levels be documented.

Engineering Controls to Reduce Noise Exposure

When eliminating or substituting the noise source by purchasing quieter equipment in not feasible, the following engineering controls should be initiated:

  • Contact the equipment manufacturer for noise abatement suggestions
  • Dampen or reduce surface vibration
  • Install enclosures or sound insulation materials

Administrative Controls to Reduce Noise Exposure

When engineering measures alone cannot reduce the noise below 90 dBA, administrative methods may be used to minimize employee exposure such as:

  • Scheduling worker rotation from high noise levels to quiet areas
  • Limiting the time for certain operations
  • Increasing the distance between the employee and the noise source
  • Relocation of job tasks which may be completed out of high noise areas
  • Restricting access to work areas or operations

As with all types of PPE, they are used as a last resort after elimination, substitution, engineering, and administrative controls have been investigated and implemented when possible.  PPE must be provided and used to reduce sound levels below 85 dBA.  It is also recommended to use hearing protectors while working in any noisy environment, even when the noise levels are below the action level. 

The proper use of hearing protection will prevent many types of hearing loss.  You must wear the required hearing protection properly and regularly to gain the benefits of the protection.  If you have any problems with the fit of your hearing protectors, contact your supervisor or Safety & Risk Management.

The hearing protection used will depend on the operation, employee preference, and attenuation required.   Various types of hearing protectors are available including:

  • Disposable earplugs
  • Reusable earplugs
  • Earmuffs
  • Custom hearing protection

How to Properly Wear Hearing Protectors

It is an OSHA requirement that the employer ensure the proper initial fitting and that the employer provide training in the use and care of all hearing protection provided to employees.

To prevent hearing loss, hearing protectors must be worn correctly and taken care of per manufacturer recommendations.  Keep ear plugs clean by washing them in warm soapy water and be sure they are completely dry before inserting in the ears.  Inspect the hearing protection regularly.  If it becomes damaged, hard, or worn out, replace immediately with a new pair.

Because everyone has different size ear canals, each person will be fitted by a competent person to ensure they receive the right size protector.  Each employee will be instructed on how to put their personal hearing protectors in and will also be given the chance to practice.  If there is a problem with the fit and comfort of your hearing protectors, the supervisor will provide a different type of protection.

Care and Use of Hearing Protectors

The usable life of the hearing protector is dependent upon the care it is given. A sponge type hearing protector is disposable; however, if it is kept clean it may be used until it no longer expands.  How long the hearing protection lasts is unique to each employee depending on the chemical make-up of their body.  In general, the following guidelines apply:

  • Sponge plugs: 1 or 2 days
  • Custom plugs: 18-24 months
  • Insert plugs: 4-6 months
  • Muffs: Replace when worn out

Putting in earplugs only involves two steps: 1) Put your left arm over your head and with your left hand pull up on your right ear.  2) with your right hand insert the ear plug into the right ear.  Switch hands and insert the other plug into the left ear in the same manner.

Hearing Conservation Training is required annually for all employees with noise exposures of 85 dBA TWA or greater.  The goal of the training is to orient employees to the purpose of hearing protection, the use of hearing protection, and policy regarding the hearing conservation program.

The following topics will be included in the employee training of the hearing conservation program:

  • The effects of noise on hearing. Hearing loss can take many years to occur, and the employee may not realize that gradual hearing loss is taking place.  The loss occurs without any pain and cannot be corrected by any known medical or surgical treatment.  A good rule of thumb to remember is that if you have to raise your voice at a distance of three feet, you are in an area with a possible hazardous noise level.  Repeated unprotected noise exposure will cause permanent hearing loss.  The hearing conservation program has been established to ensure that if you ever have a standard threshold shift, your noise exposure can be lessened by using engineering or administrative controls or more effective hearing protection.  Thus, the noise problem can be controlled.
  • The purpose of the annual hearing test and an explanation of the test procedures.
  • The purpose of the annual hearing test is to monitor your hearing. Periodic audiometric testing provides an early warning of hearing disability.  Factors such as noisy hobbies, ear infections, diseases of the ear, as well as general illness may also cause hearing loss.  You will be notified of any changes in your hearing.
  • The purpose of hearing protectors, instructions on selection, the advantages, disadvantages, fitting use and care.
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