Construction sites are one of the noisiest workplaces there is. Workers in these sites are at risk to develop noise – induced hearing loss (NIHL) while on the job. Hearing – impaired workers are not the only ones affected, though. In effect, their co – workers are imperiled too because of their condition (Glascock 2). In this regard, we can state that although damaging noise is part of the construction workplace it must never be the price to pay in the job site.
One of the most prevalent hazards to health particularly in construction sites, is noise exposure. Prolonged exposure can trigger permanent inner ear injuries beyond medical or surgical repair. Noises that can inflict permanent injuries occur over a long period of time, say for instance, 8 hours per work day over ten years or longer. In most cases, NIHL is gradual which is why it seems unnoticeable until such time when significant hearing loss has already transpired (Vinson NP).
We can not just dismiss the fact the noise is part of the whole package. Certainly, there are ways that could help us to effectively reduce or eliminate the risk of NIHL at the workplace (Ibid, par. 2).
Sound, defined by “strength, frequency (pitch) and duration,” is that which causes stimulation in the hair – like cells found in the human ear. They are the ones that cause the vibration and transmission of messages to the brain. However excessive and prolonged exposure to noise can harm the cells which can lead to hearing loss. In this condition, the cells are no longer capable of transmitting signals to the brain (Sahai 3).
Sound is measured in the unit of decibel (dB). Noise levels are not simply added because the decibel scale is not linear but logarithmic. For every 3 dB, sound intensity is doubled. “Most workplace noises include a wide band of frequencies and are measured through the “A” filter in sound – level meters. The noise level is therefore expressed in decibels (dB) on the “A” scale, or dB(A)” (Ibid, par. 4)
The duration of exposure is just as crucial. It is usually measured over a workday and accumulated over the years. A noise level registering at 8 dB(A) over an 8 – hour work day can be harmful. The louder the noise, the faster the damage to the ear occurs. Thus, it is a must to control noise exposure in the workplace (Ibid, par. 5).
On one hand, exposure levels that goes beyond 105 dB(A) demands double protection. This means that earmuffs and earplugs are required. But then again, it is also of great consequence not to avoid overprotection, on the other. It is not necessary to equip one self of more protection that what is called for otherwise he could be at a risk of isolation from his work environment. In addition, one must be careful when choosing protectors. The protectors must be sufficient but not to the point of excess attenuation to keep noise level “below the safe limit of 85 dB(A)” (Ibid, par. 6).
One of the ways to determine the development of NIHL is through Audiometric testing. A person who is predisposed to noise level over a time – weighted average (TWA) of 85 dB(A) should undergo periodic audiometric testing. Individuals who appear to suffer significant hearing deterioration should seek medical assistance before matters could get any worse (Jones 11).
In measuring hearing loss, one must be able to first determine the lowest level at which a person can perceive sound at a range of frequencies. The primary audiometric sign that may be attributed to NIHL is the loss of sensitivity in frequencies ranging from 3,000 Hz – 6,000 Hz. Habitual exposure to higher sound frequencies will lead to permanent hearing loss. Essential speech information can be barely audible and difficult to comprehend as hearing loss continues to escalate towards higher frequencies (Sahai 3).
Audible warnings and safety signals may fall on deaf ears, literally. NIHL may impede with one’s lifestyle. Hearing impairment requires one to exert an extra effort to listen and understand an otherwise clear message. This may further lead to stress, anxiety and exhaustion. In addition, people suffering from NIHL are more prone to feel isolated. They may also suffer tinnitus, a condition wherein ringing, rushing, hissing, buzzing and whistling sound seem to be heard but in reality there is actually none (Ibid, par. 9). While NIHL is irreversible, it is nevertheless preventable (Hall NP; Melamed 209 – 215; Lusk 466 – 470; Lusk 487 – 494).
In the United States alone, thirty million workers are exposed to damaging noise on a regular basis (Hall NP). As if not alarming, workers justify their avoidance of using hearing protection devices (HPDs) while on site. They claim that if they do so, their alertness of even more perilous hazards like falls, traumatic blow and electrocutions would be sacrificed. Nevertheless, NIHL must never be the price to pay in construction (Infolink NP; Neitzel NP; Waitzman NP).
Sadly, since hearing impairment cases are few, concerns for the workers who are regularly exposed to damaging noise are also limited. Systems employed for recording hearing on the job and hearing loss are outdated. Not all companies who are in need of hearing programs actually have them. In spite of this, many companies still abide by strict regulations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) do periodic inspections and collect information about employees, employers, equipment, working environment and hearing loss at the construction workplace. According to the findings of OSHA, noise issues at the job site need to be addressed. In addition, hearing programs and HPDs must be properly used for we can not avoid another generation of hearing impaired workers (Ibid, par. 11; Barrett & Calhoun 36 – 41).
Personal hearing protectors are devices which decreases the amount of noise reaching the ear. They come in either of two types, muff or insert. The former attenuates noise by plugging the ear canal while the latter conceals the external ear and provides an “acoustical sea” (Sahai 3).
The HPDs that have made its way to the market today address the worker’s issue of overprotection. Generally, the latest models of HPDs provide the protection the workers need while ensuring that communication and warning signal detection is not compromised. Moreover, HPDs now come in a wide array of attenuation levels which offers workers the choice to opt for the right level of protection their job requires. Speech communication was considered in the creation of several earplugs and earmuffs today.
As a result, standardized attenuation across all frequencies was achieved. Today, hearing the voices of co – workers with less distortion is already possible. Moreover, earmuffs today can even improve communication by intensifying ambient sounds to a safe level while protecting against louder, more harmful noise. These sounds include speech and warning signals. Other models of earmuffs available today are earmuffs that slot onto hard hats, folding earmuffs, neckband earmuffs and banded earmuffs. The latest technology on HPDs makes it easy to deliver protection against noise exposure even during the most unexpected times when it is called for (Ibid, par. 13).
However the use of HPD alone in the attempt to reduce the noise exposure on the job site may not suffice. Hearing protection and real – world HPD attenuation taken into account can only achieve less than 3 dB(A) of effective protection at the construction workplace. In addition, wearing HPDs can only reduce only up to 20 % of overexposure conditions to levels below the safe limit of 8 dB(A) (Neitzel & Seixas 237).
Evidently, further efforts must be exerted to reduce damaging noise exposure in construction. An expanded availability of HPDs and guided training on the how, when and where hearing protections devices must be used are called for. Nonetheless, education programs can only deliver up to a certain extent as it is still the workers’ responsibility to wear HPDs at the workplace on a regular basis. Studies show that 25 % of construction workers in the US still do not use HPDs even after undergoing educational programs. In other words, one can not rely on the use of HPDs alone to reduce damaging noise exposure among workers in the construction industry. It would be a flawed strategy to do so. What people could do to in all intents and purposes to eliminate it is to combine their efforts towards the development of efficient and simple noise control for the industry not just for today but for the future generations (Ibid, par. 15).
A well – thought of hearing conservation program for construction is in tall order. An effective program includes for one, sound surveys assessing the degree of damaging noise exposure. The administrative and engineering departments must go hand in hand to control on – site noise exposure. Employee training aimed to convey the importance to hearing loss prevention must be administered (Hallberg et al. 203 – 212; Suter 768 – 789). Hearing protection devices in the likes of earplugs, earmuffs and canal caps designed to reduce the sound reaching the ear must be provided. An automatic evaluation that detects hearing changes must also be included. The moment a sound survey is deemed necessary, one has to keep in mind that only a person well versed with the operation, calibration and limitation of the meters used may be capable and able to perform the assessment (Sahai 3).
Administrative controls for an on – site hearing loss prevention may include the utilization of quiet work practices like using rubber mallets while dismantling and assembling formworks. Moreover, construction equipments which generate less noise such as silenced compressors are also advisable to use. In addition, It is wise to perform noisy operations in areas away from people who are not directly involved in the works. Likewise, scheduled noisy operations before or after hours to keep exposure levels at a low can do the trick.
Furthermore, it is also important to assign a “noise perimeter zone” to demarcate the areas where only authorized personnel may be able to enter. Such zone may also be used for the storage and utilization of noisy construction equipments. It would be helpful to post signs that remind people to wear hearing protection devices. Employees, including subcontractors should be given an orientation on the noise levels, noise control as well as on the proper use of hearing protection devices. Moreover, it would be beneficial for workers to take turns through noisy operations and areas to keep exposure times of everyone at a minimum (Ibid, par. 17).
Portable barriers situated around noisy stationary equipments such as generator and compressors are one of the many noise control measures that the engineering department could deliver. Other engineering noise controls may include the utilization and periodic maintenance of mufflers and silencers for noisy construction equipment. Regular maintenance check and frequent inspection of equipment to guarantee that they are in good working condition is also very important (Ibid, par. 18).
Moreover, employees and everyone else who work on – site must have a thorough understanding of the risk that noise exposure can do to their health. It must be conveyed to them that they are not merely directed to follow precautionary measures but to also be motivated to use hearing protection devices carefully for their own good. This may be made possible by giving them the proper training and guided practice (Vinson NP).
For all the aforementioned reasons, it is not the source of the destructive noise which must be held on high regard. It is actually the energy of the sound reaching the ear which counts. In simple terms, it does not matter whether the noise is generated by a bulldozer or by an orchestra (Sahai 3). Although the exposure to damaging noise is part and parcel of the construction workplace, precautionary measures to protect our sense of hearing must not be taken for granted for any amount of hearing that may be left is worth every effort.
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