Occupational hearing loss is unfortunately one of the most common work-related health issues in the U.S.
According to the Center for Disease Control, each year, around 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to levels of noise in the workplace that are considered hazardous.
Hazardous noise in the workplace has several negative effects on workers. Not only can it cause temporary or permanent hearing loss, but it can also interfere with productivity and cause accidents. Some of the most common work-related results of hazardous noise include:
- Reduced productivity
- Interrupted communication or concentration
- Psychological stress
- Drowned-out safety and warning signals, leading to workplace accidents
For manufacturing plants, hazardous noise levels are a common occurrence. The large machines and systems that must run to keep productivity levels high can emit loud noises, and when running all at the same time, it can become difficult for workers to hear much of anything else.
Identifying Manufacturing Noise Sources and Solutions
The first step to reducing the impact of manufacturing noise on employee health is a sound study of the plant.
A sound study begins with an acoustical assessment of the machinery used in order to pinpoint the most significant sources of noise and identify potential solutions to reduce the noise.
Then, acoustical test results are used to prioritize sound attenuation recommendations that can be applied to 1) avoid OSHA fines and 2) create safe, supportive working conditions.
Permissible Noise Levels
Since there are numerous sources of noise within any given manufacturing facility, the best route to take is one that treats one area at a time until the overall ambient noise levels are reduced to an ideal level.
In order to determine which machinery to work on first, you must take into account OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PEL) for noise. OSHA measures these based on a time weighted average (TWA) that a worker can be exposed to during an 8-hour shift. The current PEL is 90 dbA. Ideally, your TWA should stay below the OSHA action level of 85 dBA if you want to avoid an employer-sponsored hearing conservation program.
For reference, common metal machines come close to 100 dBA while packing machines often exceed 100 dBA. Therefore, the maximum permissible exposure time for these machines according to OSHA would be around just 30 minutes.
Noise Attenuation Solutions
Once you’ve identified the biggest noise culprits and transmission paths, it’s time to create a strong noise abatement strategy for the long-term. Some common noise attenuation recommendations include:
- Sound Booths - Made of sound-reducing panels with a vestibule so operators can access the controller without needing to open the booth doors.
- Tunnels - Custom solutions for conveyor systems that use a hinged or removable cover to allow for both access and viewing when necessary.
- Sound Panels - Can enclose an entire area or separate sorting and weighing stations through sound-reducing panels.
- Baffle Systems - A baffle is similar to a dryer vent by design in that it traps sound within the baffle but still allows air to freely flow in and out of the vent.
While the noise attenuation recommendations for your plant will vary depending on the types of machinery as well as volume, these are some of the most common fixes.
The Alternative: Hearing Conservation Program
If you can implement a noise attenuation system into your manufacturing plant before noise levels get out of hand, you can avoid the required OSHA hearing conservation program and keep your workers safe.
The minimum requirements for this kind of program, as outlined by OSHA, include:
- Audiometric testing
- Hearing protection devices
- Employee training and education
The time and money that goes into a hearing conservation program can add up quickly. It is usually more cost-effective (and productive) to implement proper noise attenuation measures before things get out of hand.
Proactively Prevent Hazardous Noise
The best solution to the issue of hazardous noise is prevention.
Not only will it help your manufacturing plant avoid OSHA fines and other consequences like a hearing conservation program, but it will also keep your employees safe from hazardous noise-related hearing loss.
It will also help them focus on the job at hand and stay safe in their busy environment, making for more productive, more engaged workers.
If you want to get ahead of your manufacturing noise issues, contact Sonic Shield to learn more about sound studies and recommendations to reduce your plant noise.