Louise Vallee, vice president and executive research and development specialist for Chubb & Son's loss control unit, led a seminar on hearing loss trends at a recent American Society of Safety Engineers conference. Employers, she said, could very well see hearing loss problems continue to increase into future generations.
"Baby boomers have attended rock concerts and engaged in noisy recreational activities for nearly 50 years," Vallee said. "Recent studies indicate that close to 40 million baby boomers are experiencing some degree of hearing loss -- twice as many as expected. Gen Xers and Millennials, who are constantly connected to their iPods and cell phones, may also be at risk. Safety engineers need to educate corporate executives on recreational hearing loss issues, which further support the need for hearing conservation programs for the workplace."
Noise hazards are not only issues in workers' private lives. Approximately 30 million U.S. employees are exposed to excessive workplace noise, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Employers, she said, need to be aware of regulations concerning noise hazards and monitor workplace conditions accordingly, especially in industrial settings like manufacturing and construction.
"The rule of thumb is that if the environment requires somebody to speak up in order to be heard, there is probably a need to conduct noise monitoring to ensure compliance with OSHA standards," Vallee said.
To help reduce occupational hearing loss and related workers' compensation claims, Vallee recommended employers:
- Conduct baseline audiogram hearing tests for new employees. This will allow companies to detect preexisting hearing loss.
- Implement annual hearing tests for employees exposed to noise exceeding the OSHA action levels.
- Provide training on noise hazards. Use annual employee hearing conservation training as an opportunity to educate employees about the potential risks associated with recreational noise.
- Evaluate noise risks for new equipment purchases. When purchasing new equipment, Vallee said it is important to carefully evaluate noise control features.
- Offer employees protection. Provide a variety of hearing protection devices and train employees on proper fit.
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August 6, 2009
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