Workers exposed to excessive noise must use appropriate PPE including ear plugs, muffs, or both when engineering or administrative controls are not feasible to reduce exposure.
Hearing protection is part of a hearing conservation program, which is required when noise exposure exceeds the action level [85 decibels on the A scale (dBA)].
Some operations in the shipyard produce excessive noise, which may lead to hearing loss. Some of the loudest ship repair operations include:
- Abrasive blasting
- Needle gunning
- Carbon Arcing/Arc gouging
- Pneumatic pumps
- High-pressure steam cleaning
- Ventilation equipment
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People should wear a hearing protector if the noise or sound level at the workplace exceeds 85 decibels (A-weighted) or dBA. Hearing protectors reduce the noise exposure level and the risk of hearing loss.
If hearing protection is required, then a complete hearing conservation program should be implemented. A hearing conservation program includes noise assessment, hearing protector selection, employee training and education, audiometric testing, maintenance, inspection, record keeping, and program evaluation.
The effectiveness of hearing protection is reduced greatly if the hearing protectors do not fit properly, if they are worn only periodically, or if they are removed even for a short period of time. To maintain their effectiveness, the hearing protection should not be modified. Radio/music earphones or headsets are not substitutes for hearing protectors and should not be worn where hearing protectors are required to protect against exposure to noise.
Select hearing protection that is:
- Correct for the job. Refer to the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Standard Z94.2-14 “Hearing Protection Devices - Performance, Selection, Care and Use” or contact the agency responsible for occupational health and safety legislation in your jurisdiction for more information.
- Provides adequate protection. Check the manufacturer's literature.
- Compatible with other required personal protective equipment, or communication devices.
- Comfortable enough to be accepted and worn.
- Appropriate for the temperature and humidity in the workplace.
- Able to provide adequate communication and audibility needs (e.g., the ability to hear alarms or warning sounds).
The Noise Reduction Rating (NRR), or other similar systems such as the single number rating (SNR), is a method to more accurately determine the effective exposure of a person when wearing a hearing protector. These rating systems attempt to estimate the actual sound protection provided by hearing protectors when worn in actual working environments (vs. laboratory testing situations). The “real world” results are often different than laboratory tests with the main reasons for this difference being poor fit, and lack of proper training, supervision and enforcement. For these reasons, training on the correct fit, and making sure users have a thorough understanding of hearing loss are important elements of the hearing conservation program. Detailed calculations of the protection provided by a hearing protector involves using octave band analysis of the workplace noise and the noise attenuation provide by the hearing protector for noise in each octave band. Attenuation is defined by CSA Standard Z94.2-14 as “the reduction in sound pressure level incident upon the ear due to the application of a hearing protector or, specifically, the change in hearing threshold level that results when a hearing protector is worn.”