Occupational Health Exposure Safety Compliance Management

Is it likely that employees working for your company will lose their hearing or develop a disease from a respiratory exposure?  If the answer is yes, or if you don’t know, then it’s time to evaluate your company’s safety compliance management programs and policies for occupational health exposures.

You Are Obligated To Protect Workers From Injury

OSHA has standards addressing these issues in both construction (1926.52 and 1926.55) and general industry (1910.95 and 1910.134). The obligation to protect workers extends beyond the requirements of federal law, though, because there is a moral obligation to treat workers as irreplaceable human beings, not as disposable tools to be discarded when their usefulness has ended. To meet this obligation, employers must ensure that workers are protected from chronic injuries with the same diligence that goes into protecting them from acute injuries.

Occupational Hearing Loss

One such chronic injury is occupational hearing loss.  Research conducted by NIOSH suggests that over 22 million workers per year are exposed to noise levels that could damage their hearing, and in 2007, there were nearly 23,000 reported cases of hearing impairment resulting from occupational hearing loss.  That works out to nearly 63 new cases per calendar day. And we know that when a large number of workers are affected by an incurable occupational injury, the workers’ compensation costs are equally large. In fact, the Department of Labor estimates that workers’ compensation costs for occupational hearing loss is a staggering $242 million per year.

Improving Your Safety Compliance Management For Occupational Hearing Loss

In an effort to improve protection for employees by utilizing new technology, the Department of Labor submitted a challenge to inventors to use technology to prevent work-related hearing loss. The last day for submissions was September 30, 2016, and the finalists will be presenting their work for judging at the end of October. The challenge may lead to significant progress in engineering controls for occupational noise exposures – we’ll have to wait and see.

However, we can’t wait for the results of the competition to evaluate employee exposures and protection, so what should be done now?

Understand the noise exposures that your employees face. The action level for noise exposures is 85 decibels time weighted across a typical shift, according to OSHA. However, the only way to know the decibel levels for sure is through noise monitoring. If employees complain about the loudness of the noise, show signs of hearing loss, or if the noise makes normal conversation difficult, then the company should consult with a safety compliance company and an expert in industrial hygiene to determine whether noise monitoring is necessary.

Where occupational noise hazards exist, operations and equipment needs to be evaluated to determine the best way to protect workers. These protections should always start by considering if the source of the noise can be eliminated so that workers are no longer exposed. If this is not feasible, the next step is to determine whether other materials or equipment that produces less noise can be substituted for those currently in use. If noise levels still exceed the time weighted 85 decibel action level after eliminations and substitutions have been used, hearing protection PPE must be used, and employers need to implement hearing conservation programs that include annual hearing exams for affected workers.

This type of safety compliance management is particularly important in construction, as research published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2015 suggests that while hearing loss incidents have been decreasing throughout most industries, construction workers continued to have a higher risk of hearing loss.

Occupational Respiratory Hazards

Loud noises and hearing loss are not the only hazards that workers face, though; respiratory hazards can be even more detrimental to employee health and safety.

Whether due to exposure to harmful fumes or vapors from chemicals and solvents, or due to particulate exposures such as silica and asbestos, these respiratory hazards can cause potentially fatal diseases such as silicosis, mesothelioma, or lung cancer. Because these result from substance exposures, it is imperative that a hazardous material program be implemented, and that employees are well trained on it.

The program needs to be specifically tailored to the substances to which employees are exposed and include the proper controls and protective equipment required by each material’s safety data sheet.  These programs need to be evaluated regularly, especially if a new material is added to your operations, or replaces a substance previously used. Should this happen, the procedures and equipment from the previous substance may not be sufficient for the new.

Having A Safety Compliance Management Plan To Improve Respiratory Hazards

Exposure to respiratory hazards is not something easily determined, either. Just like noise exposures require noise monitoring to determine the decibel exposure, respiratory exposures can only be accurately determined through air monitoring and laboratory testing. This is the only way to find out the amount of a substance that employees are exposed to. If exposures are above the action levels, then employers must protect workers from the exposure.

Again, the hierarchy of protection is important here. If workers are exposed to dangerous substances that exceed their permissible exposure levels, employers must consider whether the substance can be eliminated from their operations. If it cannot be eliminated, can it be replaced with a less dangerous substance? If neither option is feasible, or does not reduce exposures below permissible exposure levels, then PPE is the last line of defense for the workers.

In these instances, a respiratory protection program that meets OSHA’s requirements is necessary.  Requirements include medical exams for employees, fit testing, and training on the proper use and maintenance of the respirators that they will use. In addition, employees wearing respirators must be fit tested annually to ensure the proper fit of the respirators that they use. All of these requirements are to ensure that employees understand the hazards they are exposed to and that they are properly trained to use their respirators to protect them from those hazards. So while it can be an involved process, it is also an important and necessary one.

A Safety Compliance Company Can Keep Workers Safe And Your Business On OSHA’s Good Side

If you are concerned about hearing loss or respiratory hazards, Optimum Safety Management can assist with determining occupational health exposures, developing exposure programs, and implementing safety programs to protect workers from occupational respiratory and noise exposures.

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