According to OSHA, approximately 28 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing-impaired workers face a number of additional challenges in the workplace, particularly when working safely around machinery or responding during an emergency situation.
The risk of miscommunication and resulting injuries can be significantly reduced by taking some steps recommended by OSHA:
- Ensure emergency alert systems are effective for hearing-impaired workers. These can include strobe lights or vibrating alarms.
- Provide flashlights so hearing-impaired workers can signal their location to a rescue team in the event they become separated during an evacuation.
- Establish a buddy system in which co-workers alert hearing-impaired employees to an emergency situation. This should not be used as a primary alert system because of relatively low reliability.
- Equip hearing-impaired worker telephones with an amplified ring.
- Use clearly visible tape, paint or ropes to highlight the path of forklifts, vehicles and heavy equipment.
- Require all vehicles to stop at intersections.
- Install sensor warning lights and directional signals to warn of approaching vehicles.
- Have dome mirrors installed at all intersections.
- Install a transmitter for vehicle operators to signal their presence to a hearing-impaired worker via a vibrating pager.
- Use a rear-vision camera that allows the operator to see behind the vehicle.
OSHA further recommends employers work with the hearing-impaired employee and possibly an occupational audiologist to determine which actions would be most effective.