For most of our service area (extending from Connecticut through Virginia and westward into Ohio), fall and winter means hunting season, and for the rest of the year there are shooting ranges for additional firearms practice.
There are many safety concerns surrounding hunting, and the risk of hearing loss is one that should not be overlooked. After all, firearm usage is the number one cause of non-occupational hearing loss in our area.
When we are at work, our employers are responsible for maintaining safe environments, which in the case of hearing, means providing adequate hearing protection for employees working in conditions where background and impulse noise levels surpass specified levels. Additionally, employers are required to regularly test, identify and report Standard Threshold Shifts to OSHA.
However, the tests can only identify when a shift has occurred. An audiologist is then needed to determine whether or not the shift is attributable to workplace noise based on the employee’s medical history, test results and information provided in a questionnaire.
Previously, we looked at some of the risks to hearing associated with firearm use as well as a few of the precautions and safety measures that can be taken.
Now we will take a closer look at how firearms compare with workplace noise levels, and then how workplace attribution can be determined.
Firearms vs. Workplace Noise Levels
Generally speaking, employers are required to provide hearing protection to employees who are exposed to noise levels over the permissible exposure limit of 90 DB over an 8-hour time-weighted average. Additionally, according to the CDC, “The OSHA-permissible exposure limit for impulsive noise is also 140 dB SPL.”
However, firearm use can often surpass these levels with a single shot.
“Recent NIOSH studies have shown that peak sound pressure levels may range from a low of 144 dB SPL for small caliber weapons such as 0.22 caliber rifle to as high as 172 dB SPL for a 0.357 caliber revolver…The peak sound pressure level from any firearm is usually sufficient to require the use of hearing protection, even if the gun is fired only one time.”
For perspective, shots fired from a small caliber firearm can expose the user to sound pressure levels that would legally require hearing protection if the noise occurred in a work environment. In fact, the risk of hearing loss can be so great that NIOSH recommends wearing double protection when using firearms.
To think of it another way, a single shot fired from a 0.22 would constitute 100% of a person’s daily allowable noise exposure.
But what happens when hearing loss caused by off-the-job activities are detected during mandatory workplace Audiometric Testing?
Determining Non-Occupational Hearing Loss
When shifts are detected during Audiometric Testing (and retesting), the case can be reviewed by an audiologist to determine whether or not the loss is “non-occupational.” The audiologist considers information from a questionnaire along with the detailed audiometric history of medical and testing data (shifts are determined against the employee’s baseline hearing level) to determine whether or not the shift is attributable to workplace noise.
Question #12 of the “Extended Questionnaire for OSHA Recordable Hearing Loss Determination” asks employees who have experienced an STS if they discharge firearms, what types of firearms they discharge, how many rounds per year, and whether it is for hunting purposes or target practice.
The final part of the question asks if the employee wears hearing protection.
The use of firearms can be so significant to hearing shifts, that it received its own question on the questionnaire, while concerts, loud cars, farming equipment, and other “off-the-job activities” share number 14.
The case of firearm use is one area where we are reminded that hearing shifts aren’t caused exclusively in the workplace, and that safety precautions need to be use consistently in both our personal and professional lives so that we can continue to make the most of both throughout our lives.
Here is a more in-depth look at the Audiometric Testing process.
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