It’s no secret that the OSHA Hearing Conservation Standard for Construction is unworkable and unsafe. It was weak in 1970 when it was adopted, and it got worse in 1983 when the general industry standard was upgraded, but the construction standard was left alone. Nothing’s happened in the 25 years since.

The newly-revised hearing protection manual from the LHSFNA.

Yet, as hearing tests conducted by the LHSFNA clearly show, hearing loss is a serious problem for older construction Laborers and retirees. It begins imperceptibly but is irreversible. By the time a Laborer begins missing the conversation or warnings of co-workers, it is too late. The damage is done.

Employers, concerned about the danger but without effective guidance or uniform standards, resorted long ago to simply passing out hearing protection devices and telling workers to wear them. It is a one-size-fits-all solution, and it often does not work well.

“We understand why employers adopt this strategy,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, who was long-involved in Laborer training in his early years with LIUNA. “OSHA hasn’t done its job, so employers’ only way to ensure compliance and offer protection is to provide hearing protection devices.  But we can do better than this.”

“Better” is the guidance provided by the Fund’s new, 25-page manual, Task-Based Hearing Loss Prevention: Compliance and Safety in Construction. This approach is more effective, easier to implement and less costly than OSHA’s. It achieves full compliance with the agency’s standard while ensuring quieter worksites and a better-protected workforce. “With the task-based approach, we hope to get contractors and Laborers to rethink their hearing protection programs,” says LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division Director Scott Schneider, whose division staff played a key role in development of the ANSI approach.

Contractors and safety officers know the kinds of equipment and operations and general noise levels that are expected for each phase of a construction project. Through a quick consultation of equipment, noise charts and other information sources, they can anticipate the noise levels of specific operations, tasks and work areas and deploy engineering or administrative controls – for instance, sound barriers or work rotation schedules – to lower exposures. In addition, they must require the use of hearing protection in all situations where exposure cannot be reduced below 85 dB or where workers have to shout to be heard by someone within an arm’s reach.

“The task-based approach is the industry’s best practice, and it’s cost effective,” says O’Sullivan. “It’s the new standard for the industry, and our health and safety fund is eager to help LIUNA signatory employers implement the program.”

For more information on ways to quiet the worksite and ensure compliance, order the new manual online. Also available are noise posters, brochures and a motivational presentation by Laborer Bill Duke that was re-released last month on DVD.

For information on audiometric testing, see Audiograms Gauge Hearing, Guide Protection in this issue of LIFELINES.

[Steve Clark]