Protecting Entertainment Industry Workers from Hearing Loss
Harm to the ears is irreversible. Every industry must take steps to mitigate excessive noise hazards.
- By Tim Turney
- Jun 01, 2022
Noise is more than a nuisance. It’s responsible for the most prevalent occupational disease in the world. Sudden blasts of sound and prolonged exposure to excessive noise levels can cause life-changing damage because the harm to the ears is irreversible, resulting in noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
Protecting entertainment industry workers is challenging because the very nature of the job means that high sound levels and special effects are often part and parcel of enticing customers through the door. However, NIHL diminishes quality of life, regardless of how it is caused.
OSHA’s regulations for occupational exposure to noise are applicable to all workplaces in the private sector, including night clubs, dance halls and other places of entertainment. Employers are expected to take appropriate measures to protect their employees who are exposed to excessive noise levels.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently set new recommendations to limit the risk of hearing loss in the entertainment industry, introducing a global standard for safe listening at venues and events. The new standard was developed under WHO’s Make Listening Safe initiative, which draws on the latest evidence and consultations with a range of stakeholders including experts from WHO, government, industry, consumers and civil society.
WHO’s recommendations include live monitoring and recording of sound levels using calibrated equipment by designed staff. Noise monitoring solutions provide noise exposure measurements, which can be evaluated to see if employees or the audience are subject to excessive noise. However, professionals undertaking the monitoring should be trained and prepared sufficiently with the right equipment as minor errors in noise level estimates can lead to major errors in exposure calculations.
Getting Accurate Measurements
For entertainment industry workers, the goal of measurement is to assess an individual’s eight-hour exposure, so the noise monitoring process itself may be a quick measurement using a sound level meter if the noise is steady throughout the day. A sound level meter is a hand-held device, enabling measurements to be taken at the ear with the instrument pointing at the noise source. In the entertainment industry people may be moving around an area, so a more general measurement can be made as long as it is in a location representative of an individual’s exposure. This process must be repeated for both ears, for all duties employees perform, making it possible to calculate an accurate record of daily exposure. Settings on these meters can be adjusted in line with legislation.
When using a sound level meter, measurements should be sufficiently long enough to represent their actual exposure. If workers are likely to be exposed to high levels of impulsive noise, peak noises must be measured for accurate results and compared to peak action levels. An example source of high peak levels used in the entertainment industry is pyrotechnics.
Alternatively, a more comprehensive use of multiple noise dosimeters on many people over several days may be required, depending on the variation in exposure and number of employees. Dosimeters are best for personal noise measurements where it is difficult to get close to employees with a sound-level meter because dosimeters are smaller and body-mounted. In the entertainment industry, workers are often highly mobile, so noise dosimeters may be the most common solution for noise monitoring.
Employees can wear dosimeters for their entire working shift. Data is logged instantly, and when downloaded onto another device, offers insights into daily exposure and peak levels. However, it is important that the data is presented in a format that is easy to understand to a layperson who may not be familiar with all acoustic terminology. Therefore, choosing a dosimeter with accessible software is essential to ensuring accurate insights are gained and, ultimately, taken on board.
Workers can also keep a diary of times and jobs performed, allowing the employer to see the operations that require more effective noise controls. Dosimeters can be moved to different employees if the measurements taken for each employee are representative of their working day. Most modern dosimeters will also project the noise dose forward to the standard eight-hours so that no manual calculations are needed.
However, noise dosimeter measurements are subject to tampering, so spot-checking high levels with a sound level meter is beneficial to ensure accuracy. Therefore, when choosing between either monitoring solution, it should be noted that a combination of both solutions can provide the most valid measures.
Ideally, those responsible for the task should understand noise in terms of measuring terminology, frequency and amplitude (deciBels). In addition, the individual will need to know what legislative actions are required at different exposure levels and how a variety of instruments can monitor noise, from sound level meters to dosimeters and which is best for the working environment in question.
Turning Data into Solutions
Once the individual understands the basics, they will need to know how to turn readings from noise monitors and dosimeters into values that can help determine the most appropriate form of hearing protection. The protection issued will be dependent on the individual, for example, foam earplugs might be appropriate for security vendors, but employees working the sound stage may need a uniform-attenuation earplug. Musicians and performers, on the other hand, may prefer custom-molded musician’s earplugs
The professional responsible for noise monitoring will also need to understand how to reduce exposure through a variety of means. For example, organizations could optimize venue acoustics and sound systems, offer access to quiet zones for people to rest their ears and introduce rotas to limit the duration of individual employee’s exposure.
Education is also vital. Employers have a responsibility to prevent damage to their workers’ health and to upskill their workforce, so they realize the implications of damaging noise exposure. Monitoring solutions are an ideal solution for organizations to achieve compliance with legislation and protection for workers effectively and demonstrably.
Skill and knowledge of measuring noise can take years to build. If certain aspects of noise monitoring and control are outside of an individual’s competencies then external consultancies, training and support can be sought to bridge knowledge gaps and ensure employees get the critical protection they need.
This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.