What Purchasing Needs to Know About Hearing Conservation
Smithfield, RI -- The ultimate focus of Purchasing is on the bottom line. But often, getting what's best for less involves an understanding of products and processes far beyond pricing and volume discounts. This is particularly true in the case of hearing protection devices (HPDs), where making sound OSHA-compliant purchasing decisions requires an understanding of both the risks of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and of the conservation products and programs designed to mitigate it.
In fact, according to Renee Bessette, COHC, Marketing Manager of Sperian Hearing Protection, LLC, "It is also important for key Purchasing personnel to be actively involved in the Hearing Conservation Program to ensure appropriate kinds and quantities of HPDs are purchased and restocked as needed."
Bessette went on to explain that noise-induced hearing loss is a serious, but often overlooked occupational injury, one that the World Health Organization has called, "the number one hidden disability in North America." With an estimated 10 million workers already afflicted with some degree of hearing loss and another 30 million at risk, NIOSH has classified NIHL as the most common occupational illness in North America.
"Unlike other occupational injuries, noise-induced hearing loss causes no immediate trauma," said Bessette. "Rather, it accrues over time, often going unnoticed for years. But once damaged, hearing lost to noise hazards cannot be regained. The loss is permanent and untreatable. However, it is also 100% preventable."
So, what do purchasing professionals need to know about hearing conservation? Bessette outlined five essential points to bear in mind:
• OSHA requires "a suitable variety" of HPDs be provided. "Everyone's ears are different," said Bessette. "Not only large and small, male and female, but even left and right. To be effective, earplugs must fit properly and wear comfortably during a work shift." OSHA has also recently ruled that all mandated PPE is to be provided to employees at the employer's expense.
• Overprotection can also be a risk. "Earplugs are rated by the amount of attenuation they provide and should be matched to the level of hazard. Providing too much protection can be dangerous. Not only will workers be less able to communicate and feel more isolated, they may also be unable to hear critical warning signals and machine alarms. It is ideal to provide a range of NRRs to accommodate a variety of noise levels found throughout any facility."
• A wide variety of earplug/earmuff types and styles are available. "Purchasing especially needs to understand the wide variety of products available today," said Bessette. "These include single- and multiple-use earplugs, special detectable earplugs, and new earplug materials, uniform attenuation earmuffs, radio and communication earmuffs, and even special earmuffs designed to be worn with other PPE."
• Convenient access to HPDs is key to compliance. "Other products, like dispensers, help make earplugs more accessible to workers. And ready access makes them more likely to be worn.
• NIHL is not just a workplace hazard. "Workplace pilferage is a big problem for purchasing in many industries. But in the case of hearing protection, management should encourage workers to take earplugs home as part of any wellness program. Home shop and lawn equipment—even rock concerts—can be just as hazardous as industrial noise and cause just as much damage. But compensation claims for hearing loss will only be filed against the employer."
"Purchasing needs to make timely and cost effective HPD acquisitions. By being involved in the hearing conservation program, Purchasing professionals can better understand the human factors that drive the effective use of these products in their specific environment. This can lead to better buying decisions and better hearing conservation programs."
To help Purchasing and other professionals select the proper hearing protectors for their specific applications, Howard Leight has made available a new Hearing Protector Selector on its website, www.howardleight.com Visitors can identify their noise exposure levels or specific ratings, product styles and/or features, and the most applicable results are recommended. These listings can be printed or instantly emailed to other people directly from the Selector. Visitors can also learn about a variety of environmental considerations and preferences, or "Basics," when selecting HPDs.
Since its beginnings as a one-man operation more than 30 years ago, Howard Leight by Sperian has grown into one of the largest global manufacturers of hearing protectors in the industrial market and the recognized innovator in protection and people-oriented fit. Howard Leight offers the widest variety of hearing protection devices and technology, ranging from the highest attenuating Max® single-use earplug, to SmartFit® earplugs with Conforming Material Technology--which delivers a more personalized fit--to VeriPRO™, the new industry-changing fit verification system for hearing protectors. Utilizing Bilsom® Technology, Howard Leight earmuffs raise the bar on innovative design, performance and comfort, with features like padded wire headbands, high-visibility designs, unique sound management technologies and multi-level attenuation options. Visit Howard Leight online at http://www.howardleight.com
With nearly 6000 employees worldwide, Sperian Protection is resolutely geared towards international markets. The world leader in personal protective equipment (hearing, eye, respiratory and fall protection, gloves, clothing and footwear), the Group offers innovative products adapted to high-risk environments so that all workers in the manufacturing and services industries can work with confidence. Sperian Protection is listed on Euronext's Eurolist and on the SBF120.