Hearing program formalized

Not everything we hear is music to our ears, especially at work. But thanks to a new hearing conservation program initiated by Workplace Safety and Environmental Protection (WSEP), U of S employees have protection from those noises.

"Hearing protection activities, like identifying hazardous noise, measuring noise levels, posting warning signs where necessary, providing advice, direction and training on required hearing protection, and giving guidance on noise reduction options have been on campus for many years," explained Brian Bjorndal, director of WSEP. "We make workers aware and provide them protection. We have always done that, but now we have a formal program."

The Hearing Conservation Program formalizes best practices in hearing conservation at an institutional level and specifies roles and responsibilities in support of the program, Bjorndal explained. "We are mainly concerned with loud and sustained exposure to noise. We've all walked by a lawnmower or leaf blower, but what we are looking for is prolonged exposure, not periodic. Like if you work with a drill for four hours a day, that's a concern because it can cause permanent hearing loss."

Once a noise level is determined to be a concern, WSEP staff will either work with the client to determine if noise levels can be reduced, or will provide hearing protection. "Based on noise exposure information gathered during an assessment, individuals or groups may be asked to participate in routine audiometric testing to monitor hearing acuity over time."

The first audiometric test, he continued, is used to establish a person's baseline hearing acuity and then retesting is typically conducted every two years to monitor hearing performance.

Hundreds of U of S employees are exposed to loud levels of noise at work everyday and will benefit from this program, said Bjorndal. "Workers in the trades on campus, like in shops with machinery and tools, and faculty and staff in agricultural sciences are good examples."

Normal conversation is about 60 decibels, he explained, "and any prolonged exposure to noise over 80 decibels is a concern and could cause damage. Most offices and labs are typically not an issue, but if you think there is a risk, contact us."

Awareness and understanding are important, he said. "We want it known that this is a hazard and that there are resources to address it."

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