Six Sigma Roadmap for Noise Exposure Analysis: Using Six Sigma Methodology, a Company Is Able to Move from a Blanket Hearing Conservation Program to One Targeted on Actual Exposures

By Cain, Donald L. | Occupational Hazards, October 2005 | Go to article overview

Six Sigma Roadmap for Noise Exposure Analysis: Using Six Sigma Methodology, a Company Is Able to Move from a Blanket Hearing Conservation Program to One Targeted on Actual Exposures


Cain, Donald L., Occupational Hazards


OSHA requires that employees who are subjected to an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA) noise exposure of more than 85 dB must be enrolled in a hearing conservation program. Because of insufficient monitoring and potentially a lack of solid data analysis, many employers place their entire work force in such a program. The practice is an admission that all employees are being exposed to hazardous noise levels, when in fact many are not. It also is a "blanket" administrative control and reduces the focus of effort on improving and eliminating the sources of high noise levels.

Instead of this blanket approach, the Six Sigma "DMAIC" roadmap can be employed to properly measure the noise exposure of the employees and prioritize the best approaches for reducing noise levels. The goal is to maintain levels below the OSHA limits and reduce the need to enroll employees in the hearing conservation program.

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FOLLOWING THE ROADMAP

W.R. Grace & Co. is a specialty chemical manufacturing company based in Columbia, Md. It has manufacturing sites across the globe and employs more than 6,000 people. Grace's manufacturing site at Curtis Bay (Baltimore) operates four separate plants and employs 400 hourly and 200 salaried workers. All employees at the site are enrolled in the hearing conservation program. Audiometric tests are completed annually by the medical department and a history is maintained for each employee.

In an effort to improve working conditions at the site, a team was established to analyze the conditions in one of the manufacturing plants. The team was composed of plant personnel, a representative from the Curtis Bay safety department and a Six Sigma Black Belt. An industrial hygienist from Grace's corporate location also was used as a resource.

The team followed the Six Sigma "DMAIC" roadmap. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. All Six Sigma efforts start with a practical problem. The next step is to translate this into a statistical problem by finding baseline data or creating a quantifiable, measuring system for the key inputs and outputs. From the statistical analysis, priorities are set and a "statistical solution" is developed. Finally, the numbers are translated into a "practical solution" and implemented through the use of a solid "control plan."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

With this methodology as the guide, the team reviewed the existing operations in the plant. They consisted of three separate production lines and one warehouse operation. A total of 11 operators per shift ran the plant during each of three daily shifts. Process mapping was used to list all of the key process output and key process input variables (KPOVs and KPIVs). The outputs were concerns such as the noise exposure levels, safety, production rates, profitability and cost of hearing loss to employees and the company. The KPIVs consisted of the 11 individual job responsibilities, the shift and the equipment in the plant.

Cause and effect matrices took the information from the process map and prioritized the KPIVs in order of their impact on the noise levels for the operators. This was done for each job in the plant. In addition to the C&E matrix, historical noise exposure data was reviewed through the use of I-MR control charts. The statistical and visual information provided by these charts allowed the team to see how certain jobs varied and provide a new way to look at the problem of noise exposure.

For example, Chart 1 is for an operator who averages 78 dB on an 8-hour shift. Note that the variation in noise exposure was high, indicating that the individual performing this job is constantly moving in and out of areas with different noise levels. Chart 2, however, indicates a very different situation. For an 8-hour shift, this operator was exposed to an average of nearly 86 dB, with a much lower standard deviation than the first one. …

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