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For employees who operate a single machine or remain at their workstation for the majority of their shifts, it is relatively easy to calculate their noise-level exposure with sound maps or risk assessment.

However, there are positions within warehouses and other industrial work environments – such as forklift drivers and other specialized equipment operators – that require employees to be in near-constant motion. A given shift might take them to a variety of areas of the workspace including inside and outside of the facility.

In a given shift, a forklift operator might be exposed to a variety of temperatures, conditions and noise levels over a period of hours without remaining in any one specific situation for more than a few minutes at a time.

For factors like temperature, putting rest periods between the intense exposure periods can be a workable solution, but noise-level exposure is calculated as an average so traveling through a noisy area repeatedly throughout a shift could still put the operator at risk and leave the employer out of compliance.

In respect to specialized training, daily activity and safety hazards, forklift operators pose unique challenges for safety managers, but this is one area where mobile medical testing can be especially beneficial.

1. Forklift operators often require multiple medical tests – why not do them all at once?

To maintain a safe work environment, managers should consider providing Audiometric and Vision Testing as well as Drug Screenings. Conducting these tests on an annual basis helps to maintain a safe environment for the forklift operator (who may inadvertently be exposed to unsafe noise levels) and their coworkers while protecting the employer from potential liability issues.

OMY Mobile Medical Testing can often administer these tests and screenings in a single session at your facility, which saves the employer money while reducing downtime and maximizing employee safety.

2. Forklift operators are exposed to unique noise-level threats – including the forklift itself.

Forklift operators are always on the move, which means that their noise-level threats are unique in the workplace. The obvious difference is that they will be exposed to the noises of the forklift itself for hours at a time. Now, the forklift might not be especially loud in the sense of “blasts,” but long-term exposure to reverse beeps and engine noise in addition to other external workplace noises can affect the time-weighted average (TWA) and create a potential violation.

OSHA looks at TWAs because exposure to constant noise levels day-in, day-out can create an unsafe work environment even if no single noise is a threat by itself.

3. Forklift operators can be difficult to place on a sound map – but a dosimeter can help.

Internally-made sound maps are often created by taking sound readings in static positions at various distances away from a specific source of noise, recording the results and noting the zones that require hearing protection. The completed diagram can be a complicated web of overlapping “noise” zones. The employees working in and around this area will most likely be required to wear hearing protection. However, the forklift driver will drive through these zones and pass these noisy machines multiple times throughout a shift, and they might be overlooked by safety managers because the exposure is for brief periods and the beginning and ending of the fork lift routes might be in areas of the facility that don’t require hearing protection at all.

We recommend hanging dosimeters on forklift drivers for entire shifts to get accurate pictures of their true noise-level exposure – which might be surprising.

4. Forklift drivers need to protect their hearing – but they still need to be able to hear.

If it is revealed that your forklift drivers are exposed to unsafe noise levels, then they will be required to wear hearing protection. This is uniquely problematic because as much as their hearing needs to be protected, they still need to be able to hear their surroundings. Forklift operators are often required to navigate long corridors with blind corners, and the ability to hear cues from equipment and co-workers around them can be critical to avoiding injury. On the flip-side of this, non-forklift operators will need hearing protection that preserves their hearing while still allowing them to hear the forklift’s safety noises (reverse beeps, horns, etc.).

The proper hearing protection – typically Class 2 earplugs (although this will vary based on noise-levels in your facility) – will protect hearing while allowing enough noise in to prevent unsafe conditions potentially caused by the hearing protection.

5. Forklift operators face and create unique safety hazards – it’s always better to be safe.

If there is any chance at all that your forklift operators are exposed to unsafe noise levels, it is best to err on the side of caution and provide them with hearing protection. Maps and dosimeters can create a good impression of the general sound level of the facility, but if it’s even close to the threshold, we advise you to take precautions. It’s easier to take action now than it is to navigate the process after a shift has been identified, confirmed and attributed to the workplace.

It’s not worth the risk to jeopardize your employee’s safety, and it’s not worth leaving your company exposed to an easily-avoided safety violation.

Conclusion

At OMY, we have noticed that forklift operators are often overlooked by managers when it comes to noise-level exposure because they are always on the move. We recommend not only conducting Audiometric, Vision and Drug Testing, but also using a dosimeter to gain increased insight as to what the driver’s actual noise exposure is. Mobile medical testing lowers costs and reduces potential downtime caused by sending employees offsite for testing. We can do all three tests (and more) at your facility.

The right hearing protection with proper training can increase overall safety for the driver and their co-workers by blocking dangerous noise levels while still allowing critical noise cues to be heard. When it comes to safety, it is better to err on the side of caution and prevent problems before they develop rather than try to navigate the process after the fact.

If you have any questions about mobile medical testing or creating a sound map, feel free to contact us to discuss your facility’s needs.