When you hear “workplace injury” what you picture is usually an unfortunate fall or pulled muscle. You may be surprised that one of the most common workplace injuries reported by employees is hearing damage. In fact, loud noise exposure can cause serious lasting damage – harm that effects you and your earning power. If you work in conditions that are often loud or noisy, be sure you know the facts about hazardous noise and your hearing health.
How Loud Is Too Loud?
Much hearing loss is cumulative with permanent injuries to our hearing accruing throughout our life. Exposure to dangerous noise levels is a leading cause of this gradual damage.
The hearing apparatus of our inner ear is finely tuned and delicate. The hair cells which detect sound cannot regenerate themselves, so when they are damaged, it is permanent. Hair cells can be damaged by various causes, such as infections or poor circulation, but one of the primary causes of harm is exposure to loud noise. Noises start to become dangerous to human hearing at the threshold of 85 decibels (dB), about the sound of a food blender or diesel truck on the road. Our ears sustain damage from 85 dB of sound after approximately 8 hours of exposure.
The louder a sound, the less our hearing can handle without sustaining damage. For volumes of 100 dB, hearing damage happens after only 15 minutes of exposure. Extra loud sounds have the potential to instantly damage your ears. When a sound registers 120 dB or above, it is doing immediate damage to your hearing, no matter how brief the noise.
Assessing Your Workplace
If you are being exposed to hazardous noise at the workplace, your employer is responsible for providing appropriate hearing protection or lowering the noise levels. The Occupational Safety and Healthy Administration (OSHA) enforces workplace regulations including hearing protection being worn in environments with noise levels of 85 dB per 8 hours or greater. If you want to check for yourself if your workplace exposes you to harmful noise, try using a decibel-monitoring app on your smart phone, like DecibelX. If you find harmful noise at your workplace, have a conversation with your employer or supervisor about ways to mitigate the harm.
If your job’s environment does have noise hazards, be sure you have appropriate hearing protection and that you make a habit of using it. Hearing loss is a serious issue tied to your overall health and quality of life.
Be Aware of Hidden Noise Problems
While noise issues may be obvious on a factory floor or train yard, be aware that noise issues can be present in many industries. The clatter and activity of a busy restaurant kitchen, a classroom full of children or the operational volume of farm equipment can all generate dangerous noise levels.
Even people who rely on their hearing for their livelihood can be unwittingly damaging their hearing. Employees in all sectors of the music industry, from venue employees to performers are often subjected to harm from loud noise.
Speaking of music, if you are lucky enough not to have a hazardous noise environment at your workplace, make sure you aren’t creating one for yourself. Even if you work in a quiet cubicle or from a computer at home, you can still damage your hearing with loud headphone volume going directly into your ear canal.
Keep Your Hearing Safe
When your workplace is loud, it’s important that you protect your hearing. For people in noisy jobs, like airport workers or construction crew members this means wearing provided ear protection all the time. If you work in a loud environment close to the 85 dB threshold, take breaks from the noise level whenever you can, and make sure your job manager is aware of the harmful noise level present. If your job has occasional noisy moments, you may want to keep a pair of earplugs available at work to protect your ears.
The consequences of hearing loss at work can hold you back. Untreated hearing loss can breakdown your ability to communicate and work in a team. Additionally, it has been found that employees with untreated hearing loss earn less on average than their counterparts with healthy hearing.
It is important that if you notice hearing issues, you consult with us at Hearing Health Care Center and have your hearing examined. Although most hearing damage is permanent, it can be effectively managed with a simple hearing test and hearing aid fitting.