It may come as no surprise that hearing loss is a pervasive problem. With an estimated 48 million Americans reporting some form of hearing loss, that group amounts to around 20 percent of the entire United States population. Such a staggering condition cannot be ignored, and many public health organizations have approached the issue from different angles. Though many forms of hearing loss come from nearly unavoidable causes, including exposure to sound over the lifespan, other causes of hearing loss are identifiable and may be preventable.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency within the United States Department of Labor, and they are tasked with making the workplace as safe as possible. Among the many workplace hazards that face American workers, exposure to damaging noise or volume is an important priority for OSHA. The agency estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to damaging noise in the workplace each year, and they are concerned about the damaging effects that might be avoided. Failure to abide by OSHA guidelines is also expensive, with U.S. businesses paying $1.5 million in penalties last year.
Although OSHA is responsible for protecting American workers, they cannot prevent every risk that workers face at their jobs. Many places of work have risks that are either unobserved by OSHA or that go unreported to them. Unfortunately, it is up to you to advocate for your own hearing protection in the workplace. The following tips can help you identify a risky workplace, know how to head off hearing loss, and plan for your own protection.
Identifying a Risky Workplace
If you hear humming or ringing in your ears when you leave work, you have one of the best indicators that the workplace may be damaging to your hearing. For some, this can take the form of ongoing tinnitus, a ringing in the ears that does not go away. Others may experience a loud hum or ringing immediately upon leaving work. One of the best ways to identify this condition is to step into a quiet environment right after work. Many people go directly from work to a loud form of transportation, whether a train, bus, or car on the highway. They may also travel through noisy urban space after work. When they get home, they may be inundated with other loud sounds, including television, radio, music, or others’ voices. If you are constantly in a loud environment it may be difficult to identify residual effects of workplace noise. Try to go directly from work to a quiet place and pay attention to the sounds you continue to hear after work. Another sure sign that your workplace is noisy is if you find it necessary to shout to communicate with a coworker who is only an arm’s length away.
What to Do about a Noisy Workplace
If you think your workplace is noisy, don’t simply accept the condition as inevitable. You can take steps with the management of your workplace to change noisy conditions. Noise controls can be engineered into industrial workplaces to reduce unnecessary noise. Though these structural changes may be costly, they are much less costly than the human cost of hearing loss, as well as the penalties and worker’s compensation costs that are associated. Administrative controls can also be put in place to move workers away from the source of the noise. Your employer should provide hearing protection devices to all workers who are in risky situations, including noise cancelling muffs or earplugs. Begin by talking with your supervisor about these regulations and proceed through the chain of command at your workplace to make sure the appropriate (and regulatory) steps are being taken to protect your hearing.
Planning for Your Own Protection
If you find yourself in a risky workplace without protection, be sure to take your own steps toward protection. Wearing hearing protection is a must, and don’t neglect to put protective devices in place for each shift. You can also contact your local OSHA representative directly to get an advocate for your hearing protection. OSHA employees can direct you to the right person to audit the noise environment in your workplace as well as the availability of quiet space. Don’t delay to take the appropriate steps to make your workplace safe for your hearing!
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