Occupational Hearing Hazards

July 1, 2020

Occupational Hearing Hazards
Dr. Darcy Benson
Latest posts by Dr. Darcy Benson (see all)

It’s essential to realize when a loud sound is too loud and learn how to protect yourself from irreversible hearing loss. This is particularly important when it comes to working. 

Unfortunately, occupational hearing loss is widespread, despite OSHA’s safety standards for hearing protection for workers. Loud working environments practically guarantee that you will be exposed to sound levels daily, leaving a permanent mark if you are not vigilant.

Here are a few things to consider when it comes to noise and your working environment.

Noise-induced hearing loss

The ear is still not equipped to tolerate the noises of modern industrialization, such as combustion engines, pneumatic pumps, and repetitive loud machine noise.

While age-related hearing loss is often due to a lifetime of wear and tear on your auditory system, noise-induced hearing loss (also known as NIHL) is almost entirely preventable.

The effects of noise are often underestimated as the damage progressively occurs. As a result, people traditionally haven’t recognized the impact on their daily lives until they are frustrated with a persistent communication issue or experience ringing in their ears.

Our ears have their limits.

Deafening sounds can damage the inner ear, reducing hearing ability in specific ranges. Sounds louder than 80 decibels ( dB) may cause hearing loss. When sounds above that level persist for even a short period, you can suffer damage.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has mandated that a worker only have an average exposure of 90 dB during an 8-hour workday. Additionally, a 5 dB increase over 90 dB must last for a shorter amount of time. For example, 95 dB of sound can be maintained for only 4 hours, and 100 dB can be tolerated for only 2 hours. These employers are also required to provide regular hearing tests, sound surveillance, protection, and training to workers.

What are some of the loudest jobs?

Many jobs can be dangerous to the health of our hearing, and some may even surprise you. Below are a few of the occupations most damaging to your ears.

  • Teacher at nursery school-85 dB: Schools are noisy environments, and studies have measured noise levels to fall between 40 and 105 dB during an average school day. 
  • Manufacturing/construction – 90 dB: A bulldozer that is idling at 85 dB is loud enough to cause permanent damage after just one working day. The machinery in warehouses manufacturing averages at 90 dB; combined with the open floor plan and concrete floor and structure, long hours of work may result in hearing loss.
  • Bartender – 98dB: According to a new Irish study, nightclub bartenders’ average daily noise exposure was 92 decibels, which could increase to 98dB as the night progresses. Worryingly, none of the clubs interviewed gave hearing tests to their employees or educated their workers about noise exposure risks.
  • Agricultural worker – 107-112 dB: Farmers are regularly exposed to machine sounds, and studies have shown that 25 percent of male farmers experience hearing loss at age 30.

How to protect your ears

Prevention is the best course of action where NIHL is concerned. There are steps you can take to shield yourself from dangerous noises and to avoid permanent hearing damage:

Be aware of what noise can cause harm. Motorcycles, firearms, lawnmowers, chainsaws, powerboats, and personal listening devices can easily exceed the threshold of safe listening. As an easy rule to live by, if you have to yell to be heard by someone away from an arm’s length, the noise is likely within this range.

Take steps to reduce noise at the source. Ensuring that all equipment is maintained correctly, replacing a muffler, or placing a machine inside an enclosure can help shield your ears from harmful noise. 

Use ear protection. These may be useful tools for avoiding long-term hearing damage if used correctly. Be aware of your right to high-quality ear protection in the workplace, primarily if you work in the construction or manufacturing sector of noisy jobs.

Keep an eye on the volume of your listening devices, mainly when using headphones with earbuds.  Remember to take breaks from the noise and allow your ears the chance to rest. Noise-canceling headphones are an excellent option to moderate your listening level.

If you’re concerned that noise in your workplace is having a detrimental effect on your hearing, we are here to help. We can give you a detailed picture of your current hearing health, guide you to the best treatment when hearing loss is detected, and help you find the best hearing protection to keep your ears safe. Contact us today to set up an appointment.