The Invisible Hazard

Contributor: Soundtrace

Did you know Hearing Protection Devices do not prevent hearing loss—they only reduce the risk of hearing loss? Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common occupational disease and the second most self-reported occupational illness or injury. In the manufacturing sector, occupational hearing loss accounts for 1 in 9 recordable illnesses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why is hearing loss so prevalent? First, noise is everywhere and the only thing constant about noise is that it constantly changes. In the early 1980s, OSHA established a Hearing Conservation Program (1910.95) for companies that had noise exposure levels of 85 decibels or higher on an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). The Hearing Conservation Program was created with the intent to protect employees from hearing loss. Unfortunately, 40 years later, hearing loss remains a leading occupational injury every year due to a lack of hearing protection innovation.

To put things in perspective, when the Hearing Conservation Program was written, the internet hadn’t been invented. The recommended monitoring equipment from the 1980s is still considered the “standard” equipment in 2022.

To OSHA’s credit, they listed monitoring as the first requirement in the Hearing Conservation Program. Employers are required to monitor sound levels if employees are exposed to 85 decibels over an 8-hour period or 83 decibels over a 10-hour period. Repeated measurements are required whenever a change of production, process, equipment, or controls increases noise exposure or noise levels. Monitoring is also required when additional employees such as new hires are exposed to hazardous noise levels. OSHA wrote the noise monitoring requirements in a way that repeat monitoring should occur on an ongoing basis to stay current with the constantly evolving work environment.

Until now, the available monitoring equipment proved time-consuming and manual, making it inefficient for companies to keep up with. Traditionally, the tools to measure and monitor occupational decibel levels are the sound level meter or noise dosimeter. Sound level meters and noise dosimeters that meet OSHA requirements record accurate sound levels but are limited to time and place measurements forcing employers to estimate employee noise exposure. Estimating total daily noise exposure for employees based on limited data is a leading reason why hearing loss is still the #1 occupational injury in the manufacturing industry.

Noise hazards are no different than hazards like radiation. The more exposure, the greater the risk of injury or illness. Unlike noise, radiation monitoring equipment does not rely on estimation but rather monitors daily to prevent overexposure. Real-time daily monitoring has proved to be an effective method to protect employees, so why not do the same for noise?

Invented by Soundtrace daily and real-time noise monitoring is now available. Soundtrace provides a patent-pending ANSI and IEC compliant IoT device and software that measures, monitors, and retains employee noise exposure in real-time providing critical exposure data to the employee and employer.

Soundtrace offers area and personnel Intelligent Sound Monitors that are connected to a software interface for easy and remote visibility to noise exposure data from any device, anywhere at any time. Soundtrace delivers visibility to the invisible, making it the first line of defense to proactively protect employees from noise-induced hearing loss.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Annis is an industrial hygienist with the Office of Partnerships and Recognition, Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs in OSHA’s National Office.  Jackie’s primary responsibilities include developing and overseeing internal policies and procedures for the VPP, reviewing VPP on-site evaluation reports for process safety management information, serving as the National Office liaison for two of OSHA’s ten Regions, and facilitating the management of OSHA’s National Strategic Partnership Program.  She is an integral part of OSHA’s National Office team. 

She has served with the Agency for 36 years, including five years as a senior industrial hygienist in OSHA’s Office of Health Enforcement, Directorate of Enforcement Programs in the National Office and 17 years as a compliance safety and health officer in the Denver, CO Area Office.  Prior to her tenure at OSHA, Jackie worked as an industrial hygienist for the Department of the Navy in Alameda, California.  Jackie obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in 1983.

Wayne Howard earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis and has spent 12 years with Shell (at Martinez) refinery, 3 years with the consulting firm Process Safety, 15 years with Valero (at Benicia), and the last 10 years in the Corporate Process Safety Department. He is the Valero representative to AFPM's Advancing Process Safety Initiative.

Nathan Obaugh, PE is a senior engineer in the Safety and Operational Excellence Group at NuStar Energy. Nathan has over 10 years of PSM and process design experience in the petrochemical, refining and midstream industries. At NuStar, Nathan oversees all elements of the corporate PSM program and works directly on hazard analysis, process safety studies, PSM/RMP audits and provides process engineering support to the operations and capital projects groups.

Jared Teter, PhD is a senior staff scientist with a background in physics and hazards analysis. He has extensive experience in subscale testing of energetic materials and has served as program manager for several large testing and risk management projects. He has applied engineering and risk management protocols while evaluating the risk associated with propellant and explosives manufacturing, combustible dust, and other hazardous material related processes.

Tim Belitz has a degree in Environmental Health/Industrial Hygiene from Old Dominion University and a Master’s from Duke University. He has over 25 years of Industrial Health Safety and Environmental Experience and is a Certified Safety Professional. He has many years focused on Contractor Management and Process Safety programs.

Rob Walker graduated from Virginia Tech in Microbiology and Chemical Engineering. Rob has almost 35 years of experience working in the chemical plant and refining industry. His passion for Process Safety and Mechanical Integrity began very early in his career. Rob began with his current company, Honeywell, back in 2011.

Prasad Joshi has B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Chemical Engineering from two universities in India. Prasad has over 30 years’ experience in the business. He began with Honeywell in May 2022 as Principal Maintenance Engineer. He has worked internationally in Asia and Europe.