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Can You Hear Me Now?

Thursday, August 12, 2010
Can You Hear Me Now? What you need to know about occupational hearing loss

Can You Hear Me Now?Unlike the commercial tagline, “Can you hear me now?” while checking cell phone reception, employers need to be asking employees, “Can you hear me now?” to ensure that employees aren’t developing occupational hearing loss. You need to have programs in place to control, anticipate, recognize, and evaluate excessive noise levels. You need to C.A.R.E.!

Why should you C.A.R.E.? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued citations against companies for failing to have effective hearing conservation programs.

Some examples of these citations include:

  • An $89,750 penalty to a Franklin, Massachusetts, box manufacturing company, issued in June of 2002
  • A $49,500 penalty issued in April of 2004 to a Wallingford, Connecticut, manufacturer of wire rods
  • A $94,880 penalty to a Bronx, New York, recycling company, which included a violation of the hearing conservation standard, issued in January of 2001

OSHA also is moving forward on expanding the hearing conservation program requirements for construction workers. It has held stakeholder meetings around the country in 2004 and is getting ready to offer new guidelines and requirements.

Can You Hear Me Now?Why is OSHA concerned? Despite having a hearing conservation standard for over 25 years, occupational hearing loss is not being reduced. One way OSHA can try to reduce hearing loss is by increasing the number of inspections it performs that address noise levels.

As an example of what OSHA is looking for, Brenda Gordon, OSHA area director for southeastern Massachusetts, said this regarding the Franklin, Massachusetts, box manufacturing company, “OSHA’s hearing conservation standard requires employers to take effective steps to protect the hearing of workers who are exposed to high noise levels. These include annual audiograms for exposed workers, notifying these employees if testing reveals deterioration in hearing ability, and referring them for medical evaluation, if needed. These safeguards were not provided for all exposed workers at this plant.”

Can You Hear Me Now?Why else should you care? Compensation for hearing loss can be very expensive! While compensation rates vary from state to state, payment for total hearing loss in both ears due to occupational exposure in the state of Pennsylvania is currently $167,440. That is for one individual.

Preventing hearing loss in your employees and eliminating the potential for OSHA fines and large workers’ compensation awards is a multi-step process. It begins with evaluating the noise exposure levels of your employees, which is a relatively quick process that documents not only the level of noise, but also the frequency of the noise. It ends with always being able to answer YES to “Can you hear me now?” If you need help with this or any other part of your hearing conservation program development or implementation, please contact Colin J. Brigham, CIH, CSP, CPE, CPEA, Vice President, at 610.524.5525, ext. 24.