From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Ergo Extras This Week

Webinar: Ergonomics for Occupational Hygienists on Musculoskeletal Disorders

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) and Canadian Council of Occupational Hygiene (CCOH) will host a live webinar that focuses on musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) on Tuesday, February 28, 2006. Presented by Dr. Richard Wells, University of Waterloo, it will cover risk factors, prevention, identification, assessment, control and options. Registration and other details on website in the Webinars section.

Now Hear This: Danger Lurks in Headsets

Several sources link headsets worn by music lovers and by call center personnel to hearing loss. The good news is that awareness of the danger of acoustic shock is half way to preventing hearing impairment for wearers.

The Wall Street Journal reported in January that some doctors are seeing signs of hearing loss in younger patients. The culprits are the longer-lasting batteries and increased music capacity of the new generation of portable music players. Even without excessive volume they present more risk because longer exposure leads to hearing damage. And headset users can become desensitized to the loudness, another risk factor.

With the growth of the call center industry, acoustic shock may become a major new occupational injury of the 21st century. When injury leads to damage to the inner ear, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), symptoms such as hearing loss, headaches and nausea can make the agents sick.

Citing the NSC research, a February 3 article on headphones and hearing in the communications publication TMCnet points out that managers generally ensure headphones for call center personnel are ergonomically safe but the danger can lurk elsewhere. Risk factors include electronic feedback in communications equipment and fax modem noise.

Both music and call center wearers face additional danger when there is loud ambient noise, such as traffic, as they turn up the headphone volume to compensate.

As ways to reduce the risk, the NSC recommends isolating call centers, maintaining electronic equipment diligently and using new technologies, such as sound shields, to filter narrow-band tones.

And turn down the volume. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) says that normal conversation takes place at about 60 decibels. This level is safe. Prolonged exposure to noise above 85 decibels isn’t.

In addition to holding noise levels at 60 decibels or below, the University of California-Los Angeles advises reducing ambient noise, taking hearing breaks and having hearing tested at routine physicals.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health places the safe exposure limit at 85 decibels for eight hours a day, and says each three-decibel increase in volume reduces the safe exposure time by half.

The Wall Street Journal concludes that it’s up to music lovers to control the volume and amount of time they spend with music blasting into their ears. The TMCnet article sounded a similar note, saying it is up to headset users to take responsibility for their own hearing and not assume anyone else will.

Sources: Wall Street Journal; Techonology Marketing Corporation (TMCnet)