Hearing protection in offshore oil and gas is truly a global issue
According to hear-it.org, a European organization geared towards collecting, processing, and sharing information and data as it relates to hearing issues, one in every four work-related injuries in offshore technological environments are hearing loss-related. It was ranked as the worst job here in the US a few years back, according to a report by CNN Money. Given this, Safety Managers and Industrial Hygienists work to protect workers’ hearing (along with everything else), by conducting a worksite analysis, developing hearing safety programs, and leveraging hearing protection devices to guard against hearing loss and other threats.
Communicating while wearing hearing protection (the old way)
Communicating while wearing hearing protection is becoming more of a global focus within the oil and gas industry. Historically, if a worker wanted to talk to another worker, they had a few options available to them:
- Remove their hearing protection to hear what the other person was saying, exposing themselves to dangerous decibel levels;
- Arbitrarily adjust their hearing protection in an effort to balance the incoming and competing sounds of voices and background environmental noise (not desirable, as the worker could turn up headsets beyond those recommended as safe by OSHA);
- Leave their current work environment, and move to a quieter environment that was safe for their ears, but removed them from being present in the work area they really needed to be in.
Obviously removing hearing protection, or leaving the work environment is clearly undesirable, and there hasn’t really been an alternative to arbitrary adjustment. Leaving it to the worker to set the volume to balance between preventing hearing damage, yet be able to hear alarms leaves a lot of room for non-compliance. But what options have there really been?
Another issue: the 12-hour shift
OSHA standards for permissible noise exposure are 85dBA based on a typical 8-hour workday. But frequently, offshore engineering and mining jobs demand longer hours—12 hour shifts are common.
One response you might have to this is to increase the amount of protection you’re providing, essentially reducing the amount of noise your workers are exposed to, since the time they are exposed is longer than recommended. This, unfortunately, can lead to an unintended consequence: overprotection.
The problem with overprotection
Overprotection occurs when you provide more hearing protection than is demanded by the environment your employees work in. Seems like it wouldn’t really be a problem, right? Not so. According to Industrial Safety and Hygiene News, “Too much hearing protection can put workers at risk”. Overprotection can negatively impact your workers’ ability to hear:
- Other workers;
- Warning signals and alarms;
In turn, any and all of these might actually create a more dangerous scenario for workers. The article goes on to reinforce the thought that employees who are overprotected will often resort to removing hearing protection to hear any of the above-mentioned sounds. So while workers are exposed for longer hours than recommended by OSHA, and that is being addressed by a stronger hearing protection device, workers are in turn negating the protection, because it’s too much and they can’t hear the things they actually need to hear. So what can you do?
How to improve communication while maintaining a safe offshore work environment
One way to improve communication on your rig is to employ a safety headset that protects workers’ hearing (Up to 25dB NRR), enhances speech while suppressing background noise to a safe level, and enables high noise two-way radio, Bluetooth and headset to headset communication.
Our solution allows users to keep their hearing protection in place and eliminates the pitfalls associated with overprotection. Now you can provide a complete communications solution to deliver a truly safe environment.
If you’re looking to improve your safety program, help workers adhere to your safety policies, and/or improve communications on your oil rig, download this white paper or contact us for more information today.
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