Tag Archive: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

This was reported as if it were a good thing:

Kentucky’s Rupp Arena breaks Guinness World Record for indoor crowd noise. According to the Kentucky Athletics’ twitter account, Kentucky’s Rupp Arena gets to claim the Guiness Book of World Records title for “the loudest indoor crowd roar ever!”  Yay, noise!  And just how loud was the roar?  It was 126.4 decibels.  How loud is that?  Well, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations provide that the permissible exposure limit for 126 decibels (A-weighted) is 0.054 hours or 3.25 minutes, so we are going with “really really loud.”  The article doesn’t say how long the roar was maintained, but even if it bested 3.25 minutes only the team staff and arena employees are protected under OSHA regulations.  Sorry fans and team athletes.

At least “[c]omplimentary earplugs were placed in most seats for fans who didn’t want to brave the noise.”  The article doesn’t explain why complimentary earplugs weren’t offered to all fans, nor does it ask why the Guinness Book of World Records is encouraging such irresponsible behavior.

One day, when people find out that most hearing loss is due to noise and that noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable, they are going to be very justifiably angry.  Until that happens, folks who follow the stock market may want to check out hearing aid companies.

OSHA announces hearing-protection technology contest winners

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Four inventors have been recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration for their innovations in developing technology intended to combat work-related hearing loss.  The winning designs include a custom-fitted earpiece that offered workers protection, wearable sensor technology that detects noise levels, and an interchangeable decorative piece that attaches to silicone earplugs.

Link via @jeaninebotta.

Top Democratic representative seeks study on effects of airplane cabin noise,

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expresses concern about the long-term effects of airplane cabin noise on flight crews.  The Hill reports that Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has written a letter to the Government Accountability Office raising concern “regarding permanent hearing loss and damage that airline personnel may suffer from by being exposed to loud noises for long periods of time.”  Representative DeFazio “expressed frustration over the lack of comprehensive data about cabin noise levels even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established noise decibel limits.”  To encourage the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to act on his request, The Hill reports that DeFazio “hinted that the results of the study may influence the next long-term reauthorization of the FAA, as the agency’s current legal authority expires next September, and urged “prompt and expedited completion” of the requested report.”

We will follow this story as well as others focusing on citizen complaints about the FAA’s NextGen program.  It looks like some accountability may finally be in the offing.

 

What is America’s most common workplace injury?

Hearing loss.  Zhai Yun Tan, Kaiser Health News, writing for PBS News Hour, examines hearing loss, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified as “the most common work-related injury with approximately 22 million workers exposed annually to hazardous levels of occupational noise.”  ‘[I]n an effort to reduce these numbers,” she writes, “the Labor Department launched a challenge earlier this summer called ‘Hear and Now,’ in which it is soliciting pitches for innovative ideas and technology to better alert workers of hazardous noise levels.”

Critics have countered that technology to address the problem already exists.  The real problem, they claim, is that the maximum noise exposure level and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations are outdated.  Among other things, the OSHA regulations “use sound level limits that don’t factor in the noise exposures that occur beyond the workplace — at restaurants, concerts and sporting venues, for instance — that can add to workers’ cumulative risks of harm.”  OSHA officials offered that “the agency will issue a request for information later this year about current regulations at construction sites to figure out if more stringent protections are needed and how companies are complying,” but Tan notes that “[a] similar call for information was issued in 2002, but no changes resulted from the action.”

Tan suggests that employers will have to assume more responsibility in educating workers, as some workers do not use hearing protection at work because they are not aware of the risk.  Click the link above to learn more, including Tan’s report about Jeff Ammon, a former construction worker who can no longer work due to hearing loss and hyperacusis, a condition marked by sensitivity to environmental noise.

 

 

September 8th is the Kickoff for a Public Health Crisis

By, Daniel Fink, M.D.

Some public health crises–the spread of Zika or an outbreak of Ebola, for example–are surprises.  But on September 8th, with the start of the National Football League season in Denver, a public health crisis can be predicted with stunning accuracy.  Weaponized stadium noise levels, used by professional football teams to interfere with visiting teams’ play calling, will cause mass auditory damage to tens of thousands of football fans.

Stadium noise is a danger at college games, too.   But I am going to focus on the professional game because the football players, team staff, and stadium employees are protected by regulations promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which establishes permissible exposure levels for workplace noise.  The public and student athletes in college sports have no such protection.  For some strange reason–most likely because the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) was defunded in 1981–there are no federal safe noise levels for the public. (For background on the defunding of ONAC, see Lessons from a Public Policy Failure: EPA and Noise Abatement).

The world record stadium noise level of 142.2 decibels was set in 2014, in a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the visiting Seattle Seahawks.  That record exceeds the OSHA maximum permissible noise level of 140 decibels!  The crowd in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium broke Seattle’s previous record of 137.6 decibels.  At 136 decibels, the maximum legal time for workplace exposure is less than one second.  So one could say that both stadium noise records likely set another world record: the largest number of people sustaining auditory damage at one event.  At Arrowhead Stadium, that world record number was 76,613.

Football games were always noisy, but not this noisy.  From 1989 until 2007, an NFL rule allowed officials to penalize a team if fans made noise loud enough to interfere with play calling.  Abolition of that rule allowed home teams to turn up the volume, both of crowd noise and of amplified sound.

So how loud is 140 decibels? That’s about as loud as a jet engine at full throttle getting ready for takeoff.  That’s loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), or hyperacusis (a sensitivity to noise) with only one brief exposure.  Brief repeated noise exposure is called intermittent exposure.  While the noise exposure may not meet the continuous exposure thresholds used by OSHA, the total effect of enough intermittent loud noise exposure may be sufficient to cause auditory damage.

If thousands of football fans suffered diarrhea after eating tainted food or drinking contaminated water at a football game, public health authorities would sweep in, investigate, and take action.  But because it’s “only” hearing loss (and tinnitus and hyperacusis), nothing is done.  Keep in mind that an average of 68,000 fans attend each NFL game, which is the highest attendance per game of any professional sports league in the world.  That means that more than 17 million fans are potentially at risk of auditory damage in any given year.*

This risk is not hypothetical.  Research first reported in 2009 indicates that there is no such thing as temporary auditory damage.  If someone exposed to loud noise has temporary tinnitus or diminished hearing after exposure, permanent auditory damage has been sustained.

Some football teams have started to respond to the dangerous noise levels by offering earplugs to fans.  Is this enough?  In a word, no.  Without efforts to control noise levels, without warning fans that their hearing is being endangered, and without public health authorities taking steps to protect the public’s auditory health, more needs to be done.  If not, perhaps trial attorneys will step in where the government refuses to tread.  I can see the lawyers’ advertisements on television: “Were you at Arrowhead Stadium on September 29, 2014?  Do you have problems with your hearing now?  Call us to learn what you can do to get compensated for your permanent hearing injury.”

In the meantime, if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!  Fans should bring their own earplugs or earmuff hearing protection to both professional and college football games. And if the noise level is above 100 decibels, follow the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s recommendation and bring both!

*The actual number of people at risk of auditory damage from NFL games annually is fewer than 17 million as many people attend more than one professional football game each season, but it has to be a large number.  The noise exposure issue is a complex one beyond a full discussion in a brief blog post.  Key issues include the Time Weighted Average (TWA) noise exposure (i.e., the total noise dose at an event and over a day, a year, and a lifetime that causes auditory damage) and the fact that if one experiences only two hours of noise above 85 decibels it is mathematically impossible to reach the CDC’s recommendation of an average noise dose of only 70 decibels for 24 hours to avoid hearing loss.  A discussion of sound measurement and A and C weighting and the difference between an occupational noise exposure and a safe noise exposure level for the public is also beyond the scope of this brief blog post.

Daniel Fink, M.D., is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  Dr. Fink serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.  Opinions expressed in this article are his own and not necessarily those of the American Tinnitus Association, Quiet Communities, or The Quiet Coalition.

 

 

CDC addresses noise exposure and health

Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted content on its website addressing Environmental Noise Exposure and Health.  This content looks at a number of issues, including what is hearing loss, sources of environmental noise, and the public health burden from noise and hearing loss.

Under a section titled “Recommendations and Guidelines,” the CDC discusses noise exposure limits.  The CDC notes that the Environmental Protection Agency identified 70 dB as the average exposure limit to environmental noise for the general public, as did the World Health Organization (WHO), which “recommend[ed] that noise exposure levels should not exceed 70 dB over a 24-hour period, and 85 dB over 1 hour period to avoid hearing impairment.”  Occupational noise exposure limits established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for an 8-hour workday are also mentioned.

Kudos to the CDC for posting this material on their site and giving noise exposure the attention it deserves.  Noise-induced hearing loss and other injuries are mostly preventable, and the failure to educate the public on appropriate exposure limits is significant.  As the CDC states, the “National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that in 2014, an estimated 21.0% of adults aged ≥18 years had difficulty following a conversation amid background noise, 11.2% had ringing in the ears [ed. note: tinnitus], and 5.9% had sensitivity to everyday sounds [ed. note: hyperacusis].”   In short, noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis affect more than a third of the population of the United States.  Given the CDC’s mission to control and prevent disease and injury, one hopes this is the first of many steps taken to educate the public, advise federal, state, and local governments,  and rein in a preventable health epidemic.

 

OSHA fines company for willful failure to provide hearing protection

Willard company fined for factory noise.  The headline seems innocuous enough but the story below is absolutely appalling.

According to The Blade, employees of a yard equipment manufacturer located in Willard, Ohio were exposed to noise that “was in excess of 90 decibels,” leading to permanent hearing loss.  The Blade adds that the failure to provide hearing protection “was deemed ‘willful’ by OSHA, which means the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.”  As a result of this employer’s malfeasance, employees have suffered permanent hearing loss while the employer walks away with a $77,000 fine.

One hopes that the insultingly low OSHA fine is just the beginning of the financial cost that will be borne by this monstrous employer, as the injured employees will suffer with this loss for the rest of their lives.  Whatever one thinks about trial attorneys, a punishing damages award is often the only way to keep others from following this company’s abhorrent behavior.