Noisy work environments are a major cause of hearing loss, the third most common chronic physical condition people navigate in the U.S. Referred to as occupational hearing loss (OHL), this results in a reduced ability to absorb and process sound. Impaired hearing can drastically affect relationships, job performance, social engagement, and overall health. It is important to be aware of occupational hearing hazards and the ways you can reduce your risk of developing hearing loss!

Occupational Hearing Hazards

Occupational hearing hazards are a significant contributor to hearing loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Nearly 30 million people are exposed to hazardous levels of noise in the workplace
  • 12% of the working population experiences hearing difficulties
    • 8% has tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing like noise in the ears
  • 24% of hearing loss is caused by occupational hearing hazards

Occupational hearing hazards are:

  • Loud noise: sound is measured in units known as decibels (dB) and noise above 85dB is potentially harmful for hearing.
  • Ototoxic chemicals: the CDC estimates that 10 million workers are exposed to solvents and other ototoxic chemicals (carbon monoxide, metals, hydrogen cyanide etc.).

These hazards increase the risk of developing hearing loss, a permanent medical condition that can profoundly impact all aspects of life. Occupational hearing loss is more commonly caused by loud noise which can produce noise induced hearing loss.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Sound is considered too loud when it exceeds 85dB which is the equivalent of busy city traffic. If you have to raise your voice or need others to speak loudly, this is a good indication that the environment is too loud. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) had developed recommended guidelines that establish workplace volume. According to these guidelines, people can be exposed to 85dB for a period of 8 hours per day. Anything above this, is not only dangerous, but should be mediated. OSHA suggests that for every 3-decibel increase (after 85), the safe exposure time is cut in half:

  • 85dB: 8 hours
  • 88dB: 4 hours
  • 91dB: 2 hours
  • 94dB: 30min

One time or consistent exposure to loud noise (85dB+) can damage the hair cells in the inner ear. There are thousands of hair cells in each ear which help the brain process sound waves. These hair cells, unlike other types of cells, do not regenerate. This means that why they are damaged, the impact is permanent as there are no medical treatments that can restore these tiny cells.

Fortunately, noise induced hearing loss is preventable and simply requires being proactive about your hearing health!

Tips to Protect Hearing Health

There are numerous tips you can implement to protect your hearing health in and out of the workplace. A few tips include:

  • Wear protective gear: which includes earmuffs, earplugs, and headphones which serve as a protective barrier for your ears. This reduces the impact of loud noise by up to 30dB.
  • Know workplace volume: it is incredibly important to be aware of the volume in your work environment. A useful way you can identify noise level is by downloading an app that actually measures the decibels in the environment you are in. By knowing volume, you can also know how long you are able to be exposed without damaging your hearing.
  • Learn about Accommodations: it is also critical to be aware of your rights in the workplace. Employers are required to provide hearing protection in loud working environments. Additionally, there are various workplace accommodations you can have access to if you have hearing difficulties.
  • Utilize listening breaks: be sure to maximize your work breaks by distancing yourself from loud sources of noise. If you are able to, take your breaks and lunch time in quieter settings which allow your ears to rest from constantly absorbing loud noise.
  • Get hearing tested: hearing tests are a noninvasive and painless way to measure your hearing ability in both ears. This identifies any impairment and the degree of hearing loss you may have. Having your hearing tested allows you to effectively address any hearing challenges you are experiencing.

You can reduce your risk of occupational hearing loss by practicing safety measures that protect your hearing health! If you are concerned with your hearing abilities, contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test.