Shop Noise and Hearing Protection

Say what? Shop owners discuss earplugs, hearing tests, and strategies for lowering shop noise levels. December 7, 2007

OSHA loves us. Everyone wears earplugs and OSHA has never mentioned sound testing, etc. So we were kind of surprised when the insurance guy came around and did sound testing and said we needed to do baseline hearing tests. Why is he trying to enforce this OSHA rule when we already have earplugs and OSHA approval? We think he is just going overboard.

Instead of responding to his letter right away, we are testing different saw blades on our rip saw, which is the worse offender, and found the Forest and Oldham blades to both last longer and be much quieter. This alone may make testing unnecessary. We also will be buying a sound meter and insulation material to deaden the inside of shapers and up-cut saws. Fortunately our dust collector is outside. Some of the shapers will get rubber insulation underneath them too.

When he calls to see if we are doing the hearing tests, we will just ask him to come back out and do another sound test. Problem solved. I just thought you might find this interesting.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor J:
I like your ideas for insulating the machinery. Let us know if it makes a noticeable difference. Unfortunately my dust collector is on the inside and that's the biggest offender.

From contributor L:
The baseline hearing tests are done in part to cover one's butt. I bought a sound pressure meter and have checked out levels. We are below the 8 hour weighted average required. Main dust collector outside, two smaller ones inside enclosed in double 5/8" gyp with insulation between.

From contributor D:

Your insurance guy is there to lower/prevent liability, and he is working for you, like it or not. It is best to recognize this and work with him/her to keep your costs in line. As an employer you do have a very real responsibility to protect your employees. You can do several things that are proactive.

Interview each person about non-work activities that might affect their hearing, and what, if any, preventative measures they may take. Shooting - as in targets or animals - is a big cause of hearing loss. Of course, working wood on the side will also contribute. Document the responses so they can be tallied with your insurance people to create a clear and realistic picture of exposure.

Limit and control the sources of noise. This is very effective. Double walled compressor or machine enclosures, baffles, blade replacements, etc. really add up and will make the shop more comfortable overall. Even lead lined sound attenuation blankets are available to wall off noisy operations.

Hearing protection - do the homework and know what attenuation levels you need around each area, and what level of protection muffs, plugs, etc. give the wearer.

Include hearing protection discussion during company safety meetings. Demonstrate how to properly put plugs in, what not to do, etc.

If your people show a shift in hearing levels, then you have to increase protection and/or lower exposure. Document, document, document.

One of the worst employers I ever had set up baseline hearing tests with annual checkups since his insurance people insisted. When 2-3 employees showed a shift in a couple of frequencies, this same owner directed me to fire the guys with the shifts, and hire deaf people as replacements, and eventually have an all deaf shop. I have nothing against the deaf, but I had no idea how to advertise and screen for "only deaf to apply." I convinced him that this was reverse discrimination (once he sobered up), his sensitivities flared at the notion of reverse discrimination, and he backed off.