Readers make noise about noise
In your December 1997 Human Side of Engineering article, “Is Hearing Loss Due to Job Noise Compensable?,” I believe that the company involved is making a serious mistake if they simply “reassign him and hope that’s the end of it.” Hearing loss is a very serious issue at most companies, and any employer that ignores a clear warning like this one does so at its peril. The fact that none of the other people that work blasting regularly have complained does not mean that they are not suffering hearing loss.
Once the company is forced to confront the problem, either by a lawsuit or OSHA citation, they will have to institute a hearing conservation program. This program involves baseline testing of the hearing of affected employees and periodic retesting, sound level measurements to determine the decibel exposure of the employees, and a program that ensures that employees are issued appropriate hearing protection and that its use is enforced.
If the company fails to maintain the program, then the company may be required to institute “engineered solutions” that eliminate the noise at the source. Good luck trying to come up with a way to hold the noise of a blasting operation below 80 decibels!
To say that, “It doesn’t follow automatically that because Joe’s hearing is adversely affected others would be too, or to the same extent as Joe’s,” ignores the fact that their hearing could be affected and the company is now aware that a potential problem exists. The responsible thing to do, and the way to stay out of trouble, is to determine whether the noise of the blasting is so intense that some employees may be going deaf and then take steps to protect their hearing.
— Don Scribner
Thorne’s decision, “Let’s reassign him and hope that’s the end of it,” was completely inappropriate. In my opinion, the responsible steps would have been:
1. Perform decimeter/noise level samplings of the Blasting Room operation
2. Use OSHA standards to determine the acceptable exposure levels, compared to the readings
3. Provide appropriate levels of protection from exposure and REQUIRE that they be utilized
4. Provide hearing tests for the employees subjected to the noise from the operation, to establish a baseline
5. Schedule and perform annual hearing tests to determine if hearing loss levels, compared with the baseline and subsequent testing, are progressing at a greater than normal rate, (and if the loss) could be attributed to industrial exposures.
Businesses today commonly find themselves responsible for conditions of which they were unaware. In this case, the company has been given the “gift” of an opportunity to mitigate a potentially litigious condition. The problem should be addressed at the source. Perhaps no real problem exists, but there is no evidence to support that contention. But if the potential exists for one employee, it exists for many. Anybody remember asbestos?
— Charles V. Sanders, Principal Engineer, Boeing, Monrovia, CA