You might want to associate working on a golf course with nature and tranquility, superintendents know that damage to your hearing may be more common than some would think. Whether it’s loud machinery, vehicles or tools, the noise levels of the workplace you’re managing need to be monitored, maintained and managed. It is estimated that, nationwide, approximately 22 million workers are exposed to harmful noise levels annually. Noise levels may be approaching an unacceptable and harmful zone if your crew leaves a workplace with ringing or humming in their ears, or experiences any hearing loss during or directly after a shift. We’ve put together a short guide on noise levels in the workplace, why they’re important, and how to manage them effectively.

What are the health effects of raised noise levels?

Though noise levels may seem like an innocuous, low hazard-level risk factor in a workplace filled with more tangible physical hazards, their long-term effects can be truly life-altering. Even minimal exposure to higher-than-regulated noise levels can damage the nerve endings of the inner ear, and repeated exposure to such a hazard may kill those nerve endings permanently. This means that hearing damage caused by noise hazards is often permanent. Though a degree of relief may be granted to those afflicted with hearing damage through the use of devices such as hearing aids, previous levels of hearing will never be fully regained. Noise damage-induced hearing loss often causes the sufferer an inability to hear high-frequency sounds. It also makes understanding vocal communication and intonation much more complicated than it was before the damage. Not only would hearing damage be a tremendous personal loss for the crew members on your course, but it would also greatly hinder workplace communication and efficiency if one or more of your crew is affected.

What are the limits to safe noise levels?

OSHA dictates that employers need to institute a hearing conservation program when noise levels are “above 85 decibels averaged over 8 working hours, or an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).” An easy way to quickly test if you need to be implementing one of these programs in your workplace is if you need to raise your voice to speak to a crew member 3 feet away. If this is the case, your workplace noise levels are likely above the 85 decibel threshold. You can also quickly check noise levels using the OSHA-endorsed Sound Level Meter App. The hearing conservation program you institute will work to prevent initial hearing damage, but also to lessen any further damage that your crew may have already incurred.

How do I institute a hearing conservation program?

Your first step towards noise-based harm reduction is to establish a set of noise-reducing engineering controls. According to the United States Department of Labor, these controls constitute “modifying or replacing equipment, or making related physical changes at the noise source or along the transmission path to reduce the noise level at the worker’s ear.”

These changes can include, but are not limited to:

  • Prioritizing low-noise tools and machinery over more harmful, noisy ones. 
  • Placing a barrier between your crew members and the source of the noise. 
  • Enclosing or isolating the source of the noise.

You can also take steps towards harm reduction through a system of administrative controls. There are workplace changes instituted by changing worker behavior to limit their exposure to harmful levels of noise.

These can include:

  • Limiting the time each worker spends near a noise source. 
  • Mandating the use of PPE such as earmuffs and earplugs.
  • Controlling noise exposure through distance by instructing workers to stand further away from louder equipment.

Another important aspect of a hearing conservation program is providing your crew with the adequate PPE for their job. In this case, we are referring to hearing protection devices (or HPDs) such as high quality earmuffs and earplugs. Though, ideally, administrative and engineering controls should significantly lessen the risk your crew is under, it is important to continually enforce the use of PPE in the workplace. In the event that a crew member must be exposed to noise, or already shows symptoms of sustained hearing loss from prior labor, this PPE will provide an acceptable noise barrier. 

Other key elements to consider when instituting your hearing conservation program are:

  • Implementing a “noise sampling” system in the workplace, which includes personal noise monitoring that identifies and assists specific employees who might be at risk of hazardous noise exposure. 
  • Educating your workers about the hazards of noise exposure, and training them on how to properly take care of themselves. Take a look at our safety video streaming service here.
  • Being transparent with crew members in your noise monitoring processes. This also means allowing these individuals to view your noise sampling levels freely. 
  • Instituting and maintaining a worker audiometric testing program (hearing tests). This test is a professional evaluation of the health effects of noise upon an individual worker’s hearing.
  • Identifying workers who already show signs of hearing loss and implementing a follow-up process with them to prevent further hearing damage. 
  • Tailoring your workplace’s specific PPE and preventative procedures to the types of noise present in your workplace.

What if I need help with this?

At Golf Safety, we understand that creating a safety plan can be overwhelming. We also know that a hearing conservation program is a multifaceted initiative that needs monitoring, observation, and continued action to keep it working in the best possible way it can. If you’re struggling to fit in what’s best for your crew, Golf Safety is here to help. Feel free to book a free consultation call with us to find out how we can help you do what’s best for you, your crew, and your golf course.

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