The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at work each year making occupational noise one of the leading workplace injuries worldwide. Despite how common it is, it’s important to remember that it is 100% preventable.
What Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
The volume of sound is measured in decibels. The human ear can withstand decibels in a safe listening threshold indefinitely, however, once sounds exceed this threshold, they have the potential to impact the ear and hearing ability permanently. The threshold for safe listening is 85 dBA or higher. As the decibels rise, the time it takes for damage to occur becomes quicker. For instance, at 85 dBA, it takes 8 hours of constant exposure for damage to begin.
A typical work shift, also averaging at 8 hours or more, is the unfortunately perfect environment to sustain this type of constant exposure day after day, week after week, year after year. Because it happens so gradually many don’t even realize that their hearing is being damaged at work. As the decibels rise, damage occurs much faster.
To put it in perspective, a jump of 95 dBA can cause damage in under an hour and at 105 damage can occur in as little as 15 minutes!
Protecting Your Hearing At Work
The Occupational Safety Health Administration, (OSHA) states that in potentially damaging work environments, employers are required to provide hearing protection at no cost to the employee. While it’s likely that any registered employer will comply with these practices, it is up to you to make sure you wear them diligently and correctly. Particularly, foam ear plugs, common on most work sights, take nuance to be worn in a manner in which they block out decibels properly. When worn correctly, foam earplugs can lower the decibel level by 20-30 dBA.
If you know you come into contact with damaging levels of noise daily, you may want to invest in custom-fit earplugs which are molded to the shape of the cup of your outer ear. These provide improved and more reliable protection in the workplace. Others, depending on the job, may find more comfort using protective earmuffs which fit entirely over the ear.
Common workplace noises that can hurt your hearing
Severe hearing loss can affect productivity, and the ability to communicate effectively, and contributes to psychological and physical stress- ultimately putting the safety of you and everyone in a workplace at risk. The first step in protection is knowing when you’re hearing protection. Here are some common workplace noise hazards to be aware of so you can be prepared:
- Heavy machinery— If you operate any heavy machinery at work, you should assume that they produce sounds loud enough to damage your ears. Most average at around 95 dBA, loud enough to cause permanent damage in under an hour. This includes machinery in the context of agriculture, construction, waste management, industrial manufacturing, and most processing plants,
- Pneumatic tools –high pressured air power tools are powerful and produce a lot of sounds.
- Impact tools – in the workplace you may find drop hammers, riveters, and drop forges that pose a risk to your ears.
- Loud and consistent ambient noise – busy offices with competing chatter, bars amusement parks, a place with the constant sound of vacuums running. These sounds add up over time.
- Workshops or auto shops – If you work around cars assume the decibels will be high enough to cause damage.
- Construction work areas – One of the more obvious sources of noise pollution and hearing damage, power tools and heavy machinery running all day long requires proper hearing protection.
- Concert and sporting venues – These environments can be damaging even after one night, so if you work in this type of place, be prepared to protect your ears for each shift!
- Military bases and airports – As of 2020, more than 1.3 million veterans are receiving disability compensation for hearing loss. Whether you live and work on the base, or you work at an airport or reside near a runway, make sure to protect your ears!
Your Hearing Health
It is important to be aware of the dangers that loud noises in the workplace can pose to your hearing. By taking steps to protect your hearing, you can avoid long-term damage that could impact your ability to communicate and enjoy life. If you are ready for a hearing test, we’re here to help! Contact us today to schedule an appointment.