Construction business
Construction business
Can You Hear Me Now? How to Make Worksites Safer on Employee Ears

Construction sites are, by their nature, noisy places. From generators, to saws and jackhammers, to forklifts, there is always equipment on a worksite that produces a lot of noise.

But on a commercial construction site, it is imperative to protect workers. Failing to do so could result in OSHA violations and fines.

Some construction employees probably have to use noisy equipment some of the time. Others may use loud tools and vehicles all the time as a part of their particular job. And everyone on the worksite will be exposed to the environmental noise created by all the equipment.

OSHA recommends keeping workplace noise levels below 85 decibels during an eight-hour workday. The agency requires that noise not exceed 90 decibels. Unfortunately, in our job, sometimes we’ve simply got to use much louder equipment, so in these cases we must find other ways to minimize the damage to employee hearing.

At Leon Williams Contractors, we take the matter of employee safety very seriously on our commercial construction sites around East Tennessee. So we’ve learned some tips for keeping worksites safer for employees’ ears.

  • Get an assessment. Anyone can do a simple assessment on their own. If you’re standing an arm’s length from a co-worker and have to raise your voice to be heard over the equipment, it’s probably more than 85 decibels. However, an expert can more accurately assess the exact noise levels at your site and make suggestions for minimizing it.
  • Choose the right equipment. These days, there are plenty of noise-reducing models of common equipment. Pick tools that will keep noise to a minimum. For instance, we might choose a smaller, quieter generator, even if it means foregoing some of the power of a larger one.
  • Maintain equipment. Have you noticed in your car that if you go for a while without any maintenance, it starts to run a lot more loudly? The same is true of construction equipment. Keeping parts lubricated and sealed, making sure blades are sharp, and replacing anything that’s worn out goes a long way toward minimizing noise. It’s even possible to retrofit older equipment so it runs more quietly.
  • Move equipment. Certain jobs only require a few people, so they don’t need to be done in the same general vicinity as everyone on the worksite. If there is available space, we move especially noisy items as far away from the majority of workers as we can, and put up signs to keep non-essential employees out of the noisy zone.
  • Provide ear protection. Employers are required to provide workers with something to cover their ears.  We must also make sure the ear protection provided fits each worker, and that it is maintained or replaced if it becomes ineffective. Ear protection ranges from disposable foam earplugs, to custom molded canal caps or plugs, to earmuffs. Some muffs come with radio communication so everyone can wear them and still be able to hear each other.
  • Offer regular screenings. If worksites are consistently noisy, workers need yearly hearing tests to help them monitor any hearing damage and prevent additional loss. Audiologists can detect even tiny changes in hearing loss since the last test, so regular exams can catch damage early and help employees take steps to avoid further damage.

Especially for those of us running smaller commercial construction or general contractor firms, it might seem like ear protection is an unnecessary expense. However, it’s essential to keep workers’ hearing in good condition; it’s every bit as important as implementing safety measures to help them avoid more external injuries. And investing the money up front to protect employee ears saves a company hefty fines and other problems down the road.

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