Hearing Protection Devices (HPD) are a form of personal protection equipment (PPE) and are considered the last option to control exposures to noise after engineering and administrative controls.
Why is Hearing Protection Device (HPD) important?
Occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related illness in the United States. The construction industry is among the high-risk industries with high numbers of exposed workers to noise-induced hearing loss. In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics holds that approximately 2 million U. S. workers were exposed to noise levels at work that put them at risk of hearing loss. An estimated $242 million is spent annually on worker’s compensation for hearing loss disability. HPDs are utilized in areas where engineering and administrative controls are not feasible.
- Make HPDs available to all employees exposed at or above the action level (90 dBA) at no cost.
- Ensure that HPDs are worn by employees
How to select appropriate HPD
Employers must be able to evaluate and select appropriate devices for each employee based on proper fit, the employee’s noise exposure level, hearing ability, communication needs, personal preferences, and other constraints imposed by job tasks or work environment.
Therefore, safety officers must make a variety of devices available. Preferably, they should make available a set of devices that have been pilot-tested for effectiveness and employee acceptance.
(Suggested Reading: Occupational Safety and Health Importance at Worksites)
When fitting hearing protectors, attention needs to be given to each ear. It is not uncommon for a person to have a right and left ear canals that are different sizes and must, therefore be fitted with earplugs that are separately sized for each ear. Ear canals should be inspected to assure that no physical problems, such as infections or excessive ear wax, will compromise or complicate the use of hearing protectors.
Attenuation refers to a decrease in noise levels as a result of wearing HPDs.
Employers must evaluate HPD attenuation for the specific noise environments in which the HPD will be used. HPDs must attenuate employee exposure to at least an eight hour time-weighted average of 90 dBA
For employees who have experienced a standard threshold shift (STS), HPDs must attenuate exposure at or below the action level of 85 dBA-TWA (time-weighted average).
The adequacy of the HPDs must be re-evaluated whenever employee noise exposures increase to the extent that they may no longer provide adequate attenuation. The employer must provide more effective hearing protectors as necessary.
Employers need to know and understand the methods for estimating HPD attenuation
Hearing Protection Labeling
OSHA incorporated the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labeling requirements for hearing protectors when it disseminated its Hearing Conservation Amendment in 1983. The EPA labeling requirements mandated manufacturers to identify the noise reduction capability of all hearing protectors on the hearing protector package. This measure is referred to as the noise reduction rating (NRR).
Employee training and Education
The employer must institute a training program for all employees with noise exposures at or above the action level and ensure employee participation.
The training is necessary because an employee’s failure to correctly insert an earplug or adjust an earmuff is arguably the chief culprits responsible for diminished real-world hearing protection. Consequently, even if an employee has been issued a correctly-sized hearing protector and has been trained in its use and care, he/she could receive little or no effective hearing protection because of a faulty fit. Employees must resolve to wear their hearing protection correctly, or they will greatly reduce the ability of HPD to prevent harmful noise from damaging their hearing.
Access to information and Testing materials
The employer must make copies of the noise standard available to affected employees or their representative and post a copy in the workplace to provide affected employees with any informational materials about the standard that are supplied to the employer by OSHA. Employees must provide, upon request, all material relating to the employer’s training and education program to OSHA.