Written by Michael Draper
- Expert Safety Services
A workplace hazard that can be easily forgotten is that of noise hazards. The difficulty on the surface is how to determine how many decibels is too much. The second thing is this hazard is unlike other hazards where the negative effects are seen relatively soon. Yes the negative effects of noise often take years to manifest themselves. Let’s examine first where noise hazards can be found for window cleaners and pressure washers and then how to determine what precautions should be taken.
Noise Hazards will be most prevalent in three main areas- operating a pressure washer, operating gutter vacs, and while doing construction clean up jobs.
Operating a Pressure Washer
You may not know but a 4 gallon a minute 4000 psi pressure washer operates at about 300 decibels and that decibel as referenced by the chart in this article is too high not to wear hearing protection. It should be noted that as you move away from the machine the decibel rating will come down however, also remember that the wand is letting off decibels as well and some higher rated machines than the above referenced have a high output. So both the wand end and the machine itself should be taken into consideration.
Operating a Gutter Vac
These machines while useful also have a high out put of decibels and unlike a pressure washer mentioned above the hose length on these machines will limit how far a user can get from the machine. Most gutter vacs are equipped with three 800 watt motors they also give off enough decibel to require hearing protection.
Often times while performing a construction clean various aspects of the construction process are still in progress. This means saws, drills and even shop vacs might be in use. Depending how close workers are to the noise this environment may too increase the need for owners to be aware of noise levels for their employees.
How to Assess the Hazard
One very simple way to determine noise level hazards is the combination of the chart in this article and the use of a noise level meter. Although there are various noise level meters NIOSH makes a free app called the NIOSH SLM and it very effective and easy to use. It can be downloaded to a phone making it easy for an employee to easily reference while on the job. Once the hazard is determined an employer will need to establish what hearing protection is best suited to minimize the risk. This could be foam ear buds, it may require a ear muff type device or possibly even both depending on the decibel rating.
OSHA Requirement for Employers
OSHA requires under OSHA 1910 General Industry Standard that employers assess all workplaces and sites for hazards that pose a risk to employees and seek to eliminate or minimize those hazards. They cover hearing protection extensively.