University of Northern Colorado Associate Professor of Audiology Deanna Meinke recently shared research results involving noise exposure measurements of tree service workers to raise awareness of the risks of noise-induced hearing loss, demonstrated need for hearing protection and employer responsibilities.
Meinke presented the results on behalf of Audiology graduate student Thea LaBere, who spent last summer taking noise measurements of 20 urban tree service workers in Colorado. The study results, with implications for anyone who uses such equipment, showed that ear protection should be used when operating chain saws, chippers, stump grinders, leaf blowers, water trucks, rotochoppers, tractors, and brush and weed trimmers. It was evident that hearing conservation efforts, including hearing testing and hearing loss prevention training, are needed for these workers, according to the study.
Highlights of the research include the following:
The research concluded that urban tree service workers are exposed to noise levels that exceed OSHA standards and NIOSH criteria and workers are at risk for occupational noise induced hearing loss (recommend protection at 85 dBA).
20 men ages 21-57 from seven employers participated in the study last summer. Their length of service ranged from one month to 28 years.
Research found that 95 percent of workers (19) worked in conditions that exceed either OSHA and/or NIOSH limits for on-the-job noise exposure.
Using a noise dosimeter to measure exposure in working conditions, research showed that ear protection should be used when operating chainsaws, chippers, stump grinders, leaf blowers, water trucks, rotochoppers, tractors, brush/weed trimmers.
Workers ranked chippers (measured at 112-119 dBA) as emitting the loudest noise. Noise exposures above 115 dBA are not permitted by OSHA.
Eighty percent routinely wore hearing protection of earplugs, earmuffs or combination earplug/earmuff. Recommendation to wear both earplugs and earmuffs when dBA is 100 or greater (operating leaf blowers, chippers, chainsaws.)
Three of the seven employers had components of hearing loss prevention programs, but only one had a comprehensive hearing conservation program as required by OSHA. It appears that many employers and employees may not be fully aware of the risk of noise-induced hearing loss in this industry and the best ways to prevent it.
Meinke, who recently earned a service award for outstanding service in the field from the National Hearing Conservation Association, has also collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in establishing an online resource to help prevent noise-induced hearing loss in children, http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/noise/index.htm, and a national program, called “Dangerous Decibels,” that provides educator training workshops, classroom presentations and educational materials on the topic. Currently, she’s leading research – funded by a three-year, $435,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research and Dartmouth – to develop specialized hearing testing for military personnel who are susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus (ear ringing).
“Making the public more aware of risks is why I do what I do,” Meinke said. “One out of every five cases of hearing loss is due to noise-induced hearing loss, which is preventable.”