Personal Protective Equipment

Hearing PPE: Now You Have to Pay

OSHA’s new rule, now in effect, says you must pay for nearly all PPE, including hearing protection devices (HPDs). Here’s what you need to know about them and how to get workers to use them.

Yesterday’s Advisor began a discussion of workplace noise hazards. The long-term danger of consistent high noise levels, those above an average of 85 dB, per OSHA standards, is damage to workers’ hearing. But there can also be more immediate negative effects.

One is fatigue, which contributes to carelessness and, thus accidents. Another is workers missing important directions or warnings, which often leads to assigning blame wrongly when an accident occurs. Workers may be disciplined for inattention or supervisors criticized for lack of clarity. But neither action addresses the real root cause: a hearing problem.

Solutions to noise problems are available, and OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.95 regulations spell them out: Engineering controls, such as soundproofing, can be instituted. Workers exposure can be reduced by periodically rotating them out of high-noise zones, or transferring them to quieter positions. And there is the additional solution many companies seem to favor: personal protective equipment (PPE).

Do you know that you must now pay for virtually all PPE? Learn OSHA’s new rules, now in effect, at BLR’s April 18 special audio conference. Can’t attend? Pre-order the CD. Click for details.

As explained in the BLR program, Safety Meeting Repros, noise hazard PPE, often called hearing protection devices (HPDs) comes in three varieties:

Earplugs, which are small plugs that fit tightly in the ear canal. Often, they are disposable. The crucial issue is fit. If they don’t fully close the ear canal, they are of limited use. For that reason, some employers have them custom-made.

Ear canal caps. These only minimally close the ear canal. And instead of being individually placed, they’re mounted on a headband for easy use. Many feel they’re more comfortable than earplugs, but perhaps not as effective.

Earmuffs. Also mounted on a headband, these sit on the ear, and are considered even more comfortable since they don’t enter the ear at all. However, many workers dislike using them in hot weather.

Of course, none of these forms of PPE are effective if workers decline to use them. A recent study of construction workers in Washington state highlighted this issue. Workers wore the PPE they’d been provided only 20 percent of the time. Here are some objections workers commonly make—and the responses some experts advise you to make:

Objection: “My HPDs are uncomfortable.
Response: “We’ll check that they’re properly fitted. And remember, you can remove them when you finish work, but hearing loss will be here to stay.”

Objection: “I don’t need them. I’m used to the noise.”
Response: “The only way to get used to the noise is lose more and more of your hearing.”

Objection: “Can’t earplugs infect or damage my ear?”
Response: “Not if you keep them clean and don’t push them so far in that you feel discomfort.”

… And Now You Have to Pay for PPE

Of course, if workers refuse to wear PPE, you’re going to be the one uncomfortable, for two reasons: 1) your workers’ safety is compromised, and 2) since February 13, and with few exceptions, you, as an employer, now have to pay for your workers’ PPE.

Learn OSHA’s new rules on who pays for PPE at BLR’s April 18, 90-minute audio conference. Can’t attend? Pre-order the CD. Click to learn more.

You’ve probably heard of this recent OSHA action, but possibly not all the subtleties involved. These include, for example, how to handle it when employees choose to use their own PPE,or when gear you’ve supplied is lost or abused. There are also specific rules related to contractors or subcontractors doing work for you, and updated consensus standards affecting the specific PPE you select.

To prepare you for active enforcement of the regulation, due to start on May 15, BLR is holding a special 90-minute, April 18 audio conference titled, Personal Protective Equipment: OSHA’s New PPE Rule Affects Your Obligations: How to Comply Now. It will fully explain the new rules, including how to handle all the issues addressed above.

As usual with BLR audio conferences, you can train as many colleagues as can fit around a phone, your specific questions may be e-mailed or phoned-in, real-time, and your satisfaction is assured or you get a full refund. What if you can’t attend on April 18? Pre-order the conference CD. Click here for more information, to register, or to pre-order the CD.