Labor provides input in new hazardous noise booklet

A new safety publication, "Guide for Controlling Hazardous Noise on Construction Jobsites," has been released by the Oregon-Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OR-OSHA).

The booklet was made possible by a grant from OR-OSHA and through the collaborative efforts of the Columbia-Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council, Oregon State University Construction Engineering Management Program, Hoffman Construction Co., Streimer Sheet Metal Works Inc., and the American Society of Safety Engineers Columbia-Willamette Chapter.

The guide includes a booklet, construction noise control "sound cards" for equipment operators and construction workers, and a compact disc that demonstrates the effects of hearing loss.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), some 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise at work, making it the most common health hazard faced by workers today. Industries with high numbers of exposed workers included agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, utilities, transportation and military.

Noise is measured in decibels (dBs), which is the pressure of sound based on a logarithmic scale.

For each 10-decibel increase in decibel level, the sound intensity increases by a factor of 10.

Studies show that a sound level greater than 85 decibels, measured at the OSHA-required A scale (because it most closely resembles sensitivities of the human ear), will cause hearing loss. "Many sounds in the workplace, and even in everyday life outside work, exceed 85 dBA," the guide said.

"It's a problem that needs to be addressed in Oregon ... and throughout the country," said OSU Professor John Gambatese, who assisted with the research for the safety publication. Construction sites regularly experience noise in excess of 85 dBA. Average that over an eight-hour workday and it can lead to substantial hearing loss among construction workers, especially those at mid-career. And good hearing is important on a construction site because of the nature of the work. Workers need to be able to hear vehicular backup alarms, vehicle traffic, changes in equipment noise and other warning sounds.

NIOSH estimates approximately 420,000 construction workers are exposed to noise above its recommended exposure level of 85 dBA over an eight-hour day. In one study of 2,300 crane operators, carpenters, operating engineers and electricians, it was found that greater than 20 percent of the workers in each trade have noise induced hearing loss.

The OR-OSHA booklet features a "Safety Toolbox Talk" in which in discusses jobsite noise controls for all types of construction crafts - ranging from operating engineers to insulators.

When should hearing protection be considered if actual noise measurements haven't been taken? Several indicators are:
* People need to shout in order to be heard when standing approximately three feet apart.
* Ringing, buzzing or whistling in the ears is noticed immediately after a period of high noise exposure.
* Speech or music that sounds muffled at the end of one day is fairly clear after returning to work the next morning.
* Surround equipment is operating and tagged as being a noise hazard.

For copies of the Guide for Controlling Hazardous Noise on Construction Jobsite, contact Gambatese at OSU at 541-737-8913 or the Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council at 503-774-0546.

April 18, 2003 issue

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