As a business-owner or manager, you undoubtedly take steps to keep your employees safe and healthy. The last thing you want is an employee to be injured while on the job. One type of safety that is easy to overlook is hearing safety. Exposure to loud or prolonged noises can cause hearing loss and chronic tinnitus (a ringing, buzzing or other constant sound in one or both ears). Consider these tips to help protect your workers and keep yourself and your business out of a workers' compensation claim.
Discourage the Use of Music
Your employees might wear headphones or earbuds with their favorite music playing. While a moderate level of music is not dangerous, it becomes a problem when background noise in the workplace is loud and the music is turned up to drown it out. This can create hearing loss by damaging the tiny hairs inside the ears; even more damage can occur if it's a regular occurrence.
Of course, you can't prevent your workers from listening to loud music on their own time; however, by discouraging (or banning) the use of music to cancel out workplace noise, you can prevent them from damaging their hearing while at work.
Invest in New or Quieter Equipment
Workers should wear protective devices (earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones) if they are exposed to noises over 85 decibels. This is equivalent to the sound of a heavy truck running 15 meters away from the person hearing the sound. If you currently have equipment that is producing louder sounds, ear protection is needed. Providing these for your employees will help keep you in compliance with OSHA regulations. As a side benefit, they will make it impossible for the employees to listen to the aforementioned loud music during the workday.
In some cases, keeping machinery in good condition (for example, lubricating it regularly, replacing belts as needed, etc.) can reduce the number of decibels it puts out. Have your machinery checked by a professional and serviced regularly to keep it running at optimal noise levels. You can also have the decibel levels of various types of equipment tested to see what range your workplace is in with several machines running at once; in some cases, staggering the use of the louder machines can make a difference.
Educate Your Employees
Your workers are likely to feel some frustration if you suddenly change the rules about music and hand out noise-cancelling headphones. Explaining that you want to preserve their hearing can help. Stress the importance of having regular hearing checks; early detection can help stop the worsening of hearing loss, though damage might not be able to be reversed. You can even provide the tests on an annual basis.
It's also important to tell your workers about the early symptoms of hearing loss. If they are noticing that they have to turn the television volume up more than usual or that they often have to ask people to repeat what they are saying, these are signs that their hearing should be checked. Hearing a whooshing, ringing or buzzing sound all the time or intermittently is another warning sign to be aware of.
By taking steps to preserve your employees' hearing, you can keep them physically safe and your business legally and financially safe. Be sure that you are providing the equipment and testing recommended in your industry, and provide ongoing education to your employees about the common, but potentially disabling, condition of hearing loss. Also, remember that while it might take some extra effort and expense to upgrade your equipment or provide testing or training now, it could pay off in dividends later if you avoid landing on the wrong side of a workers' compensation lawsuit. If you do end up in a workers' compensation suit, reach out to a local law firm like Ransom, Gilbertson, Martin & Ratliff, L.L.P for more information.