Text Equivalent of Hearing Loss Prevention: Adapting the Hearing Conservation Program for Agriculture PDF

Noise exposure in agriculture impacts all age groups from youth to older adults – not just the typical workforce age population. The agricultural worksite may also be a home, exposing non-working family members to noise that is loud enough to cause hearing loss.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL): permanent impairment resulting from exposure to high levels of noise. NIHL can result from either a one-time exposure to noise (burst) or from repeated exposure to loud noises over time.

According to the American Hearing Resource Foundation, one in ten Americans has hearing loss that affects his/her ability to understand normal speech. Hearing loss can be caused by illness or biological
issues, but can also result from exposure to noise that is too loud.

Horizontal Bar Graph: Decibel Levels of Everyday Sounds

The bottom horizontal axis lists decibel levels in increments of 25, from zero to 150. A vertical line is at 85 decibels. Horizontal bars list various noises. If the noises are greater than 85 decibels, they are labeled “too loud.” Gun shot and jet engine: 150 decibels. Sandblasting and loud rock concert: 125 decibels. Chain saw and pig squealing at feeding: 100 decibels. Lawn mower and shop tools: 105 decibels. Tractor with cab: 80 decibels. Normal conversation: 60 decibels.

Terms to Know:

  • A decibel is the measurement used to describe the loudness of a sound.
  • Sounds above the 85-decibel mark, or permissible exposure limit, will cause hearing loss over time. The OSHA Action Level is 85 decibels – the level that requires initiation of a Hearing Conservation Program.
  • A hertz is the frequency or number of sound vibrations per second.
  • NRR or Noise Reduction Rating is a measurement of how effective hearing protection devices (like ear plugs or muffs) are at reducing noise exposure.
  • TWA or Time Weighted Average is the decibel or sound level over a given period of time, usually 8 hours.
  • A Hearing Conservation Program (HCP) is a designed intervention program to prevent hearing loss. An HCP is required when noise levels measure at 85 dB or higher (OSHA’s Action Level).

Chart: OSHA’s Permissible Noise Exposure Table

OSHA standards for permissible exposure (29 CFR 1910.95).

The following lists “sound level dBA slow response” in decibels, followed by the permissible exposure time

  • 90 dB for 8 hours
  • 95 dB for 4 hours
  • 100 dB for 2 hours
  • 105 dB for 1 hour
  • 110 dB for 30 minutes
  • 115 dB for 15 minutes or less

From standard sound level meter.

OSHA Hearing Conservation Program

OSHA Hearing Conservation Program requirements do not apply to all of the agricultural workforce, but can be used to guide best management. If you work in the agricultural industry and have 11 or more employees, you could be cited under the General Duty Clause, with the General Industry standard, 29 CFR 1910.95 used as a reference. The rule states an employer must administer a continuing and effective hearing conservation program and make hearing protection available whenever employee noise exposures are at or above the
action level. Reference: 29 CFR1910.95(c )(2)

OSHA Hearing Conservation Program Decision Algorithm

The decision tree asks questions, and depending on your answer, you are directed to information. The questions are:

  1. Do you have 11 or more employees (or have you had 11 or more employees at any time in the previous 12 months)? If “no,” then no action is required, but hearing protection may still be advised. If “yes,” go to the next question
  2. In your workplace, do noises measure at 85 decibels or higher? If “no,” then no action is required, but hearing protection may still be advised. If “yes,” go to the next question:
  3. Is OSHA’s Action Level Reached? (Sounds are at or above 85 db and time exposed is above the limit. See OSHA’s Permissible Noise Exposure Table for reference). If “no,” then no action is required, but hearing protection may still be advised. If “yes,” go to the next question:
  4. Can you reduce the noise level exposure below 85 db by removing the source of the noise? If “yes,” remove the noise source. Continue to monitor noise levels. If “no,” or if removing the noise source is not effective, go to the next question.
  5. Can you replace the source of the noise with a quieter substitute? If “yes,” replace the hazard with a quieter substitute. Continue to monitor noise levels. If “no,” or if replacing the hazard with a quieter substitute is not effective, go to the next question.
  6. Can you isolate the noise source in an isolated room or enclosure? If “yes,” then isolate the hazard. Continue to monitor the noise levels. Provide hearing protection for workers entering the room or enclosure. A hearing conservation program is advised. If “no,” or if isolating the hazard is not effective, go to the next question.
  7. Can you change the work pattern to decrease workers’ exposure time below the action level? If “yes,” then continue to monitor noise levels. Hearing protection may still be advised. If “no,” protect the worker with personal protective equipment. A hearing conservation program is required.

A Hearing Conservation Program has the following key components:

  • Ongoing noise level monitoring (personal or environmental)
  • Training (at least annually) for workers on the need for and use of hearing protection
  • Appropriate hearing protection provided by employer for all workers exposed to noise above the action level
  • Audiometric testing provided for workers by trained and certified testing personnel in an appropriate environment
  • Record-keeping according to OSHA regulations

Points for Clinicians

Ask About:

  • Pain, fullness, ringing in ears
  • Allergies, recent cold or sinus infection
  • Medications (prescription & OTC) – some meds may cause tinnitus
  • Family history, noise exposures, personal protective equipment (PPE) use

On exam, look for:

  • Swelling, redness, drainage
  • Scar tissue or wax plugs

Remember to document findings.

For more information or to access a related webinar training go to www.agrisafe.org.

This material was produced under a grant (SH24891SH3) from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor. It does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Labor, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organization imply
endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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