Hearing loss has been called a “silent epidemic,” a widespread problem that is largely ignored, particularly in construction.
Yet, some companies take it seriously, understanding how important hearing is to one’s quality of life. They go the extra mile to make sure their workers’ hearing is protected. In fact, these companies know that just meeting the OSHA standards, which are over 40years old, is not enough. They have their own standards (e.g., following the NIOSH limit of 85 dBA with a 3 dB doubling rate) that are much more protective.
These companies deserve recognition for their commitment. Perhaps by recognizing them, others will follow their lead. This is the theory behind the Safe-in-Sound award established by NIOSH and the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) four years ago. Each year, the award is given to companies that show “excellence in hearing loss prevention”. That doesn’t just mean making ear plugs available to workers. It means identifying noise sources and figuring out ways to reduce the noise levels. It means making sure workers are properly trained on the need and use of hearing protection. These companies use modern technology to check and ensure every worker has hearing protection that is right for them and fits properly. They are constantly looking for ways to improve their programs and working with their employees to that end.
Safe-in-Sound awards are given in three sectors: construction, manufacturing and service. In addition, an “innovation” award is given to any individual or company that develops an innovative approach or product to further excellence in hearing loss prevention. The LHSFNA’s staff sits on the expert committee which helped develop this award and judges applications each year.
This year, for the first time, an award is being given to a construction contractor, Bechtel National, Inc., BSII for its work at the Waste Treatment & Immobilization Plant Project in Hanford, WA. Below are some features of the Bechtel program at Hanford:
- A Hearing Conservation team of industrial hygienists
- An inventory of noise sources with a database of tool sound levels
- Exposure assessments by craft, task and environment focusing on the worst potential exposures
- Communication of noise levels to workers through training
- Posting and cordoning off of noisy areas
- Engineering and administrative controls for noisy tasks
- A large selection of hearing protection and annual hearing tests
- Annual program evaluation
The company has had no recordable hearing loss cases since 2009 when the program got started. We hope that more construction companies will follow Bechtel’s lead in making hearing loss prevention a priority.
For more information, go to the Safe-in-Sound website. The deadline for applications for next year’s awards is September 3, 2012. Information on how to apply is on the website.
[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health.]