Safety

Worker wellness: Protecting your staff from the noise in your facility

Hospital Safety Insider, July 14, 2016

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Despite its ability to cause damage over a long period of time, noise isn't often associated with healthcare worker injury. It's time you changed that mindset. The incessant hum of diagnostic machines such as centrifuges and pneumatic tube systems in a laboratory, for instance, or the noise of trucks in a warehouse or loading dock, or even listening to loud music through earphones could cause permanent hearing loss with enough exposure.

According to OSHA, hearing loss has been considered one of the prevalent health concerns to workers for more than 25 years; annually, about 30 million people in the U.S. are exposed to hazardous noise on the job. Since 2004, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported nearly 125,000 cases of significant, permanent hearing loss, more than 21,000 of them in 2009 alone.

OSHA protects workers with the right to a safe workplace, and that right extends to workplace noise levels. If an inspector notices that your facility is too noisy, or if a worker makes a complaint against you, you could be faced with debilitating fines, or with workers' compensation costs for lifelong injuries that can't be reversed using medicine or surgery.

Below are some recommendations from OSHA to help you reduce the amount of noise in your facility.

* Choosing low-noise tools and machinery, or placing equipment on damping pads with springs that reduce vibration
* Maintaining and lubricating machinery and equipment (e.g., oil bearings)
* Enclosing or isolating the noise source (e.g., glass sound walls or curtains)
* Providing ear plugs or headphones to reduce noise exposure
* Operating noisy machines only during shifts when fewer people are exposed.
* Limiting the amount of time workers spend at a noise source.
* Providing quiet areas for relief from hazardous noise sources (e.g., a soundproof room where workers' hearing can recover).
* Controlling noise exposure through distance (for workers in proximity to but not actually working with a noise source). In open space, for every doubling of the distance between a person and a source of noise, the noise is decreased by 6 decibels (dBA).

* Workplace noise sampling, including personal noise monitoring that identifies which employees are at risk from hazardous levels of noise
* Informing workers at risk from hazardous levels of noise exposure of the results of their noise monitoring
* Providing affected workers or their authorized representatives with an opportunity to observe any noise measurements conducted
* Providing hearing tests (a professional evaluation of the health effects of noise upon a worker's hearing)
* Implementing comprehensive hearing protection follow-up procedures for workers who show a loss of hearing (standard threshold shift) after completing baseline (first) and yearly audiometric testing
* Proper selection of hearing protection based upon individual fit, manufacturer's quality testing indicating the likely protection given to a properly trained wearer, and the protector's attenuation and effectiveness for the noise at your workplace
* Training and information that ensures the workers are aware of the hazards of excessive noise exposure and how to properly use the protective equipment that has been provided
* Data management of and worker access to records regarding monitoring and noise sampling

This is an excerpt from the monthly healthcare safety resource Medical Environment Update. Subscribers can read the rest of the article here. Non-subscribers can find out more about the journal, its benefits, and how to subscribe by clicking here.
 



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