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Demonstration hearing conservation program for construction workers in Washington State.

Suter AH
NOISE-CON 2000: Proceedings of the 2000 National Conference on Noise Control Engineering, Newport Beach, California, December 3-5, 2000. Van Houten JJ, ed., Ames, IA: Institute of Noise Control Engineering of the USA, 2000 Dec; :1-4
The fact that U. S. construction workers are exposed to hazardous levels of noise and sustain significant hearing impairments is not news. That these impairments are at least as great as would be expected from an industrial population became evident during the 1960s and 1970s. Estimated numbers of construction workers exposed to potentially hazardous levels of noise range from about 1/2 million to 750,000. In the U.S. there are separate noise regulations for construction and general industry. The permissible exposure limits (PEL) and requirements for noise control are essentially the same, an 8-hour time-weighted average exposure level of 90 dE3A with a 5-dB exchange rate between allowable duration and noise level. Engineering or administrative controls are required to be implemented above this level, and hearing protection devices (HPDs) must be issued and worn when exposures exceed the PEL. Both regulations require hearing conservation programs (HCPs) for overexposed workers, but there are two essential differences: (1) the noise regulation for general industry requires the initiation of HCPs at an action level of 85 dBA while the construction regulation does not use an action level, and (2) the general industry regulation gives detailed requirements for noise exposure monitoring, audiometric testing, HPDs, worker training and education, and record keeping, while the construction regulation has only a general requirement for "continuing effective hearing conservation programs" above the PEL. The construction regulation 1926.10 1 merely mandates the use of hearing protection above the PEL and requires insert devices to be fitted or determined individually by "competent persons." Current enforcement of these noise regulations is not rigorous, particularly in construction. Part of the problem has been a perceived lack of information about the noise exposures of construction workers, although several studies have been conducted over recent decades in the U.S. and Canada. A more salient reason for the lack of activity in this area is the impracticality of the usual approaches to hearing conservation programs in the construction arena. Mobility among construction workers, short periods of employment, and the consequent difficulty in record keeping and follow-up present daunting obstacles. Data from the Worker Compensation Board of British Columbia, however, show hearing threshold levels that are better than would be predicted from workers' noise exposures, as well as improvements in population hearing levels over a period of nine years. These findings are attributable to the success of the British Columbia hearing conservation program. One of the most important factors appears to be the centralization of records, as well as technician training and certification. In addition, workers carry with them a record of their hearing test data. The use of hearing protection devices in U.S. construction workers has been very poor, although it has improved slightly in recent years. The percentage of workers using HPDs varies by trade. For example, operating engineers, whose exposures are relatively continuous, show considerably higher usage of HPDs than carpenters, whose exposures tend to be intermittent. By contrast, the majority of British Columbia construction workers report regular use of HPDs, which is related not only to a vigorous HCP, but to a positive safety culture which has been existence there for more than 20 years. The success of the British Columbia hearing conservation program provides incentive to conduct a program for construction workers in the U.S. Such a program has been initiated in the State of Washington. The Building Trades Hearing Conservation Program in Washington State represents a major step forward in providing hearing conservation to a population that has been identified as "underserved" by NIOSH and professional groups for many years. The training program is scheduled to begin in December of 2000.
Construction-industry; Construction-workers; Construction; Noise; Hearing-impairment; Hearing-loss; Hearing-conservation; Hearing-protection; Personal-protective-equipment; Personal-protection; Noise-control; Noise-induced-hearing-loss; Engineering-controls; Control-technology
Alice Suter and Associates, 575 Dogwood Way, Ashland, OR 97520
Publication Date
Document Type
Conference/Symposia Proceedings
Van Houten JJ
Fiscal Year
Source Name
NOISE-CON 2000: Proceedings of the 2000 National Conference on Noise Control Engineering, Newport Beach, California, December 3-5, 2000
Page last reviewed: September 3, 2021
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division