Occupational Hearing Hazards

Occupational Hearing Hazards

Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A Hearing Health, Hearing Loss, News, Research, Work & Economy

Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A

It comes as no surprise that workplaces can be dangerous. Many who work in factories and industrial sites will be familiar with the many dangers of working, as well as the precautions that conscientious employers will take to make sure that their workers are safe and healthy. Even those who work in offices can suffer from workplace injuries due to lifting heavy objects, climbing to dangerous heights, as well as the everyday wear and tear on the body from typing and using a computer for hours on end. Although these forms of workplace danger may be more familiar, another dangerous aspect of work can sometimes go unnoticed: noise.

Over 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise in the workplace each year in the United States alone. Employers are required by law to protect their workers from exposure to damaging noise, and they paid out over $1.5 million last year alone in penalties for improperly protecting their workers from noise exposure. Of course, it is impossible to quantify the effects of workplace noise exposure on the workers themselves. How could we measure the pain and suffering caused by prematurely losing one’s hearing due to workplace noise?

However, we do know that an estimated $242 million is spent each year on workers’ compensation for workplace hearing loss alone. When it comes to this exposure, it is important to be aware of the many ways one might be exposed to hearing hazards in the workplace. Only when we are aware of these dangers can we properly protect ourselves against them.

Hearing Hazards

Anyone who works in a noisy industrial setting can tell you how hazardous noise can be to your health. Employees who will be in a loud industrial site should receive a baseline audiogram. This test measure hearing ability at the time that employment begins. The purpose is to track if and how much hearing is lost during the time of employment in a noisy site. Hearing protection is required in these sites, and the use of this protection should be strictly enforced by a conscientious employer. There are a few guidelines for the use of hearing protection in the workplace. First of all, any worker who is exposed to noise over the permissible exposure limit of 90 decibels over an 8-hour period should wear protection. This guideline was devised by the United States Department of Labor in an effort to limit hearing damage in the workplace.

However, some people may be employed in a noisy workplace without even knowing it. Industrial sites and factories are not the only noisy workplaces. Retail, service industry, and even office locations can be much noisier than you might expect. Fans, motors, and machinery can be incredibly loud, and we simply adjust our speaking voices to continue working. Those who work in transportation-related industries can be at even greater risk. All forms of transportation can be noisy, and all of the employees in these areas need to take care of their own hearing first and foremost. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers a few guidelines to help you notice if you might be exposed to noise in the workplace. Noise may be a problem in your workplace if you hear ringing or humming in your ears when you leave work. Perhaps you have noticed that you have to shout to be heard by a coworker an arm’s length away. If you experience temporary hearing loss when leaving work, that is a sure way to know that you are being exposed to damaging noise.

Protection and Treatment

Protecting workers from harmful noise in the workplace should be the responsibility of employers. However, if you feel that your workplace may be hazardous to your hearing health, don’t hesitate to take measures into your own hands. Wear industrial-grade earmuffs or noise cancelling headphones if you think you may be exposed to noise. Even basic earplugs are better than nothing. And, if you have already been exposed to harmful noise, take a visit to your audiologist or hearing specialist. A hearing test is the first step on the road toward treatment, and if a hearing loss is detected, hearing aids may be the right way to overcome the damage you have already encountered in the workplace.

To learn more, contact us at Professional Hearing Services.