Every year, on March 3, the World Health Organization (WHO) partners with healthcare and community organizations to observe World Hearing Day. Each year, events are held around the world, with a common theme, to promote ear and hearing health and broaden awareness of related issues.
The title of the 2024 program is “Changing Mindsets” and the unifying theme for this year’s events is “Let’s make ear and hearing care a reality for all!” As much a rallying cry as a theme, World Hearing Day organizers strive to eliminate the stigma often associated with hearing issues and to expand global access to information, monitoring, and treatment.
One of the most important aspects of soundscape management is the maintenance of communication capabilities. Achieving stable communications is particularly challenging, as communication both contributes to and competes with the soundscape in which it takes place. Types of communication necessary may include verbal and nonverbal, two-way or broadcast, face-to-face or remote, emergency and routine.
Effective communication requires that a message’s content, delivery mechanism, sound characteristics, and receiver are compatible. To design an effective communication system, due consideration must be given to the sender (e.g. speaker), receiver (listener), and everything in between.
This installment of the “Occupational Soundscapes” series explores characteristics of and interactions among ambient sound, messages or signals, and auditory capabilities to provide the conceptual background needed to establish communication system requirements. There is an emphasis on speech communication, given its prevalence and challenges in workplaces.
Some effects of exposure to sound with certain characteristics have been mentioned in previous installments of this series. Given the importance of understanding the potential consequences of failing to manage soundscapes effectively, compiling these in one place is advantageous. The effects of exposure to challenging soundscapes provide the “why” that motivates efforts to manage them.
In this installment, both auditory and extra-auditory effects are explored. Auditory effects may be more intuitive, as direct impacts to hearing are highly relatable. Extra-auditory effects, in contrast, often lack an obvious link between sound and the effects experienced by those exposed. Recognizing this link is key to effective facility and workforce management.
The previous installment (Part 6) of the series dealt with objective measures of sound exposure. Objective measurements, however, do not fully describe one’s experience of the surrounding soundscape. The subjectivity of human perceptions of sound plays a vital role in effective noise control and communication system design.
This installment of the “Occupational Soundscapes” series explores aspects of the human experience of sound that SPLs and TWAs alone do not explain. These include the concepts of “loudness” and “noisiness” – terms that reflect the subjective nature of sound.
Though spring is traditionally associated with cleaning and refreshing one’s surroundings, doing so during the year-end transition can provide significant advantages. A range of possibilities exist in our physical, digital, and mental spaces to reduce clutter and stress while increasing value and productivity.
Over the past century, many researchers have attempted to quantify the physiological impact of high- and low-temperature environments (see Part 4 and Part 8, respectively). As knowledge of human biometeorology increased and computational tools became more powerful, the models used became much more sophisticated. However, models are typically focused on one type of environment – hot or cold – requiring use of multiple indices to accommodate varying conditions. Other shortcomings in thermal index formulations further limit their utility in highly-variable conditions.
In this installment of the “Thermal Work Environments” series, indices presented earlier in the series are evaluated and compared. Additional indices are also considered for recommendation in workplaces. Finally, a universal index, valid across the foreseeable range of human environmental exposure, is presented.
Throughout the range of possible workplace temperatures, safeguarding the health and well-being of employees is paramount. Despite equal importance, the development of a coordinated program to prevent cold injury receives much less attention than its heat-related counterpart.
An effective cold injury prevention program consists of the same components as a heat illness prevention program. These include the measures used in environmental assessment, exposure limits, policies and procedures, training plans, program assessment processes, and other information relevant to work in a cold environment. Like its heat-related counterpart, this is nominally a prevention program; however, information about the proper response to the occurrence of cold injury, such as first aid practices, is also included.
Given the similar natures of the heat- and cold-related programs, it should come as no surprise that this installment of the “Thermal Work Environments” series parallels that of “Part 5: Managing Conditions in Hot Environments.” In the outline for a cold injury prevention program that emerges, cold stress hygiene and various control mechanisms are introduced. This outline can be customized to the specific needs of an organization or workplace.
Development of effective cold stress indices has garnered significantly less attention than that of heat stress indices (see Part 4). Perhaps this is explained, at least in part, by the lesser threat to life posed by cold stress, as explained in Part 7. Whatever the reason, this difference does not indicate lesser importance. Cold stress and cold injuries are serious conditions that effect workers in many ways and have both short- and long-term consequences. Monitoring environmental conditions and worker well-being is as critical a responsibility in cold environments as it is in hot ones.
This installment of the “Thermal Work Environments” series parallels the discussion in Part 4, beginning with a widely-reported, if not widely-understood, index used in weather forecasting, followed by a discussion of application in industrial settings. Readers are encouraged to review the discussions of heat and cold indices in conjunction.
Loss of heat balance in a cold environment leads to cold injury, an umbrella term for several afflictions, of varying severity, resulting from overexposure to low temperatures. Recognizing symptoms of cold injuries is critical to timely treatment and successful recovery.
This installment is a companion to Part 3 (“Heat Illness”) of the “Thermal Work Environments” series, in which a range of cold-related effects and injuries are presented. The objective of this discussion is to raise awareness of the risks of working in cold environments and the severity of potential outcomes. These are serious conditions, all but the mildest of which require medical attention from trained healthcare professionals.
Many of the human body’s responses to cold mirror those initiated by exposure to heat. Others are unique physiological mechanisms engaged to pursue diametrically-opposed objectives. The risks associated with cold stress are very different from those of heat stress, requiring unique forms of strain for proper and effective management.
This installment parallels Part 2 of the “Thermal Work Environments” series, providing an overview of thermoregulatory functions activated by cold stress. The heat balance equation is also revisited, discussing each term in the context of cold environments. These two installments are “companion pieces;” each can stand alone, but are most helpful when reviewed in conjunction.
The measurement of sound pressure levels throughout a workplace is a fundamental component of noise-control and hearing-conservation initiatives. It is the basis for exposure assessment and regulatory guidance. Sound measurement and audiometry are opposite sides of the same coin.
This installment of the “Occupational Soundscapes” series introduces basic concepts of sound level measurement and exposure assessment. Equipment used, frequencies analyzed, calculation of a “dose,” and more are presented. Like the presentation of audiometry (Part 5), its aim is to provide a level of understanding, within the constraints of this format, that engenders trust in an organization’s noise-related practices.
Audiometry is the measurement of individuals’ hearing sensitivity using finely-regulated sound inputs. It is a crucial component of a hearing loss prevention program (HLPP) with an emphasis on the range of frequencies prevalent in speech communication. To be valid, audiometric testing must be conducted under controlled conditions and the results interpreted by a knowledgeable technician or audiologist.
This installment of the “Occupational Soundscapes” series provides an introduction to audiometry, requirements for equipment, facilities, and personnel involved in audiometric testing, and the presentation and interpretation of test results. It targets, primarily, those enrolled in – as opposed to responsible for – an HLPP. Its purpose is to develop a basic understanding of a critical component of hearing conservation efforts to, in turn, engender confidence in the administration of procedures that may be foreign to many who undergo them.
Occupational soundscapes, as outlined in Part 1, are comprised of many sounds. Each has a unique source and set of defining characteristics. For some purposes, treating all sounds in combination may be appropriate. For others, the ability to isolate sounds is integral to the purpose of measuring sound levels.
Of particular importance to a hearing loss prevention program (HLPP) is the ability to add, subtract, and average contributions to the sound pressure level (LP, SPL) in a workplace. The ratios and logarithms used to calculate SPLs, presented in Part 3, complicate the arithmetic, but only moderately. This installment of the “Occupational Soundscapes” series introduces the mathematics of sound, enabling readers to evaluate multiple sound sources present in workers’ environs.
In all likelihood, readers of this series have encountered the decibel scale many times. It may have been used in the specifications of new machinery or personal electronic devices. Some may be able to intuit the practical application of these values, but it is likely that many lack knowledge of the true meaning and implications of the decibel scale.
This installment of the “Occupational Soundscapes” series introduces the decibel (dB) and its relevance to occupational noise assessment and hearing conservation. Those with no exposure to the scale and those that have a functional understanding, but lack foundational knowledge, benefit from understanding its mathematical basis. The characteristics of sound to which it is most-often applied is also presented to continue developing the knowledge required to effectively support a hearing loss prevention program (HLPP).
A rudimentary understanding of the physics of sound and the basic functions of the human ear is necessary to appreciate the significance of test results, exposure limits, and other elements of a hearing loss prevention program (HLPP). Without this background, data gathered in support of hearing conservation have little meaning and effective protections cannot be developed and implemented.
This installment of the “Occupational Soundscapes” series provides readers an introduction to the generation and propagation of sound and the structure and function of the human ear; it is not an exhaustive treatise on either subject. Rather, it aims to provide a foundation of knowledge – a refresher, for many – on which future installments of the series build, without burdening readers with extraneous or potentially confusing detail.
Exposure to excessive noise in the workplace can have profound effects, both immediate and long-term. Some consequences are obvious, while others may surprise those that have not studied the topic.
Some industries, such as mining and construction, are subject to regulations published specifically for them. This series presents information, including regulatory controls, that is broadly applicable to manufacturing and service industries.
Safeguarding the health and well-being of employees is among the critical functions of management. In hot workplaces, monitoring environmental conditions and providing adequate protection comprise a significant share of these responsibilities. The details of these efforts are often documented and formalized in a heat illness prevention program.
An effective heat illness prevention program consists of several components, including the measure(s) used for environmental assessment, exposure limits or threshold values, policies defining the response to a limit or threshold being reached, content and schedule of required training for workers and managers, and the processes used to collect and review data and modify the program. Other information may be added, particularly as the program matures. Though it is nominally a prevention program, response procedures, such as the administration of first aid, should also be included; the program should not be assumed to be infallible.
In this installment of the “Thermal Work Environments” series, the components of heat stress hygiene and various control mechanisms are introduced. Combined with the types of information mentioned above, an outline of a heat illness prevention program emerges. This outline can be referenced or customized to create a program meeting the needs of a specific organization or work site.
Since the early 20th century, numerous methods, instruments, and models have been developed to assess hot environments in absolute and relative terms. Many people are most familiar with the “feels like” temperature cited in local weather reports, though its method of determination can also vary. Index calculations vary in complexity and the number of included variables.
Despite the ever-improving accuracy and precision of instrumentation, heat indices remain models, or approximations, of the effects of hot environments on comfort and performance. The models may also be applicable only in a narrow range of conditions. When indices are routinely cited by confident “experts,” without qualifying information, those in the audience may attribute greater value to them than is warranted.
Incorporating the range of possible environmental conditions and human variability requires an extremely complex model, rendering its use in highly-dynamic workplaces infeasible. Though imperfect, there are models and methods that can be practically implemented for the protection of workers in hot environments.
When the human body’s thermoregulatory functions are unable to maintain heat balance in a hot environment, any of several maladies may result. Collectively known as “heat illness,” these maladies vary widely in severity. Therefore, a generic diagnosis of heat illness may provide insufficient information to assess future risks to individuals and populations or to develop effective management plans.
This installment of the “Thermal Work Environments” series describes the range of heat illnesses that workers may experience. This information can be used to identify risk factors and develop preventive measures. It also facilitates effective monitoring of conditions, recognition of symptoms, and proper treatment of heat-effected employees.
The human body reacts to exposure to – and generation of – heat by activating various system responses. The nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, and exocrine systems are key players in the physiological behavior of workers subject to heat stress. Effective thermoregulation requires that these systems operate in highly-interconnected ways.
This installment of the “Thermal Work Environments” series provides an overview of the human body’s thermoregulatory functions that are activated by heat stress and introduces the heat balance equation. Each component of the heat balance equation is described in terms of physiological and environmental factors that impact thermoregulation.
In the minds of many readers, the term “thermal environment” may induce images of a desert, the Arctic, or other thoughts of extreme conditions. While extreme conditions require intense planning and preparation, they merely bookend the range of work conditions that require consideration. That is to say that the environmental conditions of all workplaces should be thoroughly assessed and the impacts on the people within them properly addressed.
The ensuing discussion is generalized to be applicable to a wide range of activities. The information presented in this series is intended to be universally applicable in manufacturing and service industries. Additional guidance may be available from other sources; readers should consult industry- or activity-specific organizations for detailed information on best practices and regulations that are beyond the scope of this series.
A toxic culture can precipitate a wide range of deleterious effects on an organization and individual members. The toxicity of an organization becomes obvious when overt behaviors demonstrate blatant disregard for social and professional norms. These organizations often become fodder for nightly “news” broadcasts as they are subject to boycotts, civil litigation, and criminal prosecution.
An organization’s toxicity can also manifest much less explicitly. Subtle behaviors and surreptitious actions are more difficult to detect or to evince intent. It is this uncertainty that allows toxic cultures to persist, to refine and more-effectively disguise maladaptive behaviors.
To combat organizational toxicity, leaders must appreciate the importance of a healthy culture, recognize the ingredients of toxic culture, and understand how to implement effective countermeasures.
In common language, “materiality” could be replaced with “importance” or “relevance.” In a business setting, however, the word has greater significance; no adequate substitute is available. In this context, materiality is not a binary characteristic, or even a one-dimensional spectrum; instead it lies in a two-dimensional array.
Materiality has been defined in a multitude of ways by numerous organizations. Though these organizations have developed their definitions independently, to serve their own purposes, there is a great deal of overlap in both. Perhaps the simplest and, therefore, most broadly-applicable description of materiality was provided by the GHG Protocol:
“Information is considered to be material if, by its inclusion or exclusion, it can be seen to influence any decisions or actions taken by users of it.”
Recognizing the proliferation and potential risk of divergent definitions, several organizations that develop corporate reporting standards and assessments published a consensus definition in 2016:
“Material information is any information which is reasonably capable of making a difference to the conclusions reasonable stakeholders may draw when reviewing the related information.” (IIRC, GRI, SASB, CDP, CDSB, FASB, IASB/IFRS, ISO)
The consensus definition is still somewhat cryptic, only alluding to the reason for its existence – corporate financial and ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) reporting. As much can be surmised from the list of signatory organizations as from the definition itself.
The work balance chart is a critical component of a line balancing effort. It is both the graphical representation of the allocation of task time among operators, equipment, and transfers in a manufacturing or service process and a tool used to achieve an equal distribution.
Like other tools discussed in “The Third Degree,” a work balance chart may be referenced by other names in the myriad resources available. It is often called an operator balance chart, a valid moniker if only manual tasks are considered. It is also known as a Yamazumi Board. “Yamazumi” is Japanese for “stack up;” this term immediately makes sense when an example chart is seen, but requires an explanation to every non-Japanese speaker one encounters. Throughout the following presentation, “work balance chart,” or “WBC,” is used to refer to this tool and visual aid. This term is the most intuitive and characterizes the tool’s versatility in analyzing various forms of “work.”
A precedence diagram is a building block for more advanced techniques in operations and project management. Precedence diagrams are used as inputs to PERT and Gantt charts, line balancing, and Critical Path Method (topics of future installments of “The Third Degree.”)
Many resources discuss precedence diagramming as a component of the techniques mentioned above. However, the fact that it can be used for each of these purposes, and others, warrants a separate treatment of the topic. Separate treatment is also intended to encourage reuse, increasing the value of each diagram created.
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