Focus
October 23, 2017

Listen up: How your smartphone could be damaging your hearing

How many times did you pick up your smartphone today? Many of us use our phones several times a day or an hour — without thinking about it — to respond to emails and texts, schedule meetings, check the news or monitor our step count. Some of us even have our entire music library on our phone, making it easy to listen while we work.

“It’s rare that I visit a shop floor and don’t see at least a few employees wearing earbuds to enjoy music on their phones,” said Pinnacol Industrial Hygienist Joan Brown.

And this has Brown concerned.

“I hate to rob workers of their music, but employers need to know that standard earbuds don’t protect employees from work-site noise,” she said. “In most cases, a worker listening to music through earbuds is exposed not only to the volume of music but also to the noise in the work environment. Also, the employee may not hear the backup alarm or horn of a forklift, the signal of an equipment malfunction or a co-worker in distress.”

An OSHA study bears this out. It found that earphones at loud volume could expose users to hazardous noise, jeopardize hearing, and limit their ability to hear important ambient sounds such as warnings.

OSHA rules

Brown reminds Pinnacol customers that the OSHA Occupational Noise Exposure Standard obligates employers to implement a hearing conservation program when employee exposure to noise equals or exceeds an eight-hour time-weighted average of 85 decibels. That’s about the sound level of a lawnmower. The program should address noise exposure monitoring, baseline and annual audiometric (hearing) testing for exposed employees, hearing protection, employee training, and record keeping.

In workplaces where noise exposure is greater than an eight-hour TWA of 90 decibels, OSHA mandates the use of hearing protection. (Hearing protection must be made available for voluntary use where employee exposure falls between an eight-hour TWA of 85 and 90 decibels.) Brown said there are hybrid earplug-earbud products with noise-reduction ratings of more than 20 decibels and volume-limiting technology, which protect hearing and enable workers to safely listen to music.

Pinnacol’s complimentary resources

“Pinnacol provides resources to help customers comply with OSHA requirements and safeguard their workers,” explained Brown. “We’ll come to your work site and evaluate employee exposure to noise. If the results warrant, we’ll recommend controls and provide a written, sample hearing conservation program.” Brown noted that noise and hearing conservation resources, including J.J. Keller online training courses, a workplace poster, checklists and tips, are available to customers on at no charge. Contact your Pinnacol safety consultant to learn more. Or call our Safety On Call hotline at 303.361.4700.

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