Occupational Hearing Hazards
Hearing loss is one of the most common medical problems in the United States, affecting one-third of persons over 65 and half of those over 75. Hearing loss is caused by various factors, including the normal aging process and exposure to loud sounds.
When we are subjected to unsafe amounts of noise, either in a one-time incident (gunshot, explosion, etc.) or over time, such as in occupational settings, we can develop noise-induced hearing loss. Hearing loss affects 60% of the workforce in the United States, with 60% of veterans returning from combat zones reporting hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing of the ears).
Noise-induced hearing loss, unlike other types of hearing loss, can be avoided. We’ll look at the dangers of loud noises and occupational hearing problems in this piece.
Noise Pollution at Work
Around 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Noise-related hearing loss has been “one of the most prominent occupational health issues in the United States for more than 25 years…thousands of workers suffer from preventable hearing loss due to high workplace noise levels,” according to the authors.
Hearing doctors believe that listening to music at a loudness of more than 85 decibels (dB) for more than 8 hours a day can cause hearing damage. The louder the sounds or, the longer the exposure, the greater the damage.
Average conversations are around 60 decibels, whereas rock concerts are around 120 decibels. Gunshots have a decibel range of 140 to 190, while power tools have a decibel range of 110 to 130. Sports fans are often subjected to loud environments, with stadiums averaging 120 to 140 decibels.
Many occupations expose people to dangerously high levels of noise. “Approximately 22 million U.S. workers [are] exposed to dangerous noise levels at work,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible. However, it is treatable with hearing aids. Long-term exposure to hazardous sound levels at work causes hearing loss and stress, decreased productivity, and the risk of workplace accidents and injuries.
You might be shocked by which jobs are considered dangerously loud. Of course, some are self-evident, such as construction or manufacturing. But have you ever considered that your dentist or a nursery school teacher might be at risk for hearing loss as a result of their work?
Teaching: 85 dB: Schools are noisy places, with noise levels ranging from 40 to 105 decibels, according to studies. Working with young children also entails being exposed to the higher-frequency sound of their voices, which can cause hearing damage.
Manufacturing/construction – 90 dB: “A bulldozer that is idling (note that this is idling, not actively bulldozing) is loud enough at 85 dB that it can cause permanent damage after only 1 work day (8 hours),” according to Dangerous Decibels. This group raises awareness on noise-induced hearing loss. Long work hours and the open floor plan and concrete floor and structure could lead to hearing loss in manufacturing warehouses.
Garden Maintenance – 107dB: Working in a garden may appear peaceful until you consider the weed trimmers and lawn mowers necessary to maintain manicured landscapes. Gardeners should consider using bespoke hearing protection when using these tools, which often measure around 107 decibels. Farmers, too, are constantly exposed to the 112 dB of tractors, and studies reveal that by the age of 30, 25% of male farmers have hearing loss.
Nightclub bartender – 110dB: The noise on the dance floor is so high in some settings – sometimes as loud as an airplane taking off (about 110dB(A)) – that the cumulative effect for nightclub workers is very harmful.
Air traffic controller — 140 dB: The loudest noise is experienced by air traffic controllers and ground control personnel at airports. The average airplane engine produces 140 decibels of noise, with some jet jets reaching 190 decibels (which will cause immediate hearing damage). Custom ear protection is provided to the majority of air traffic controllers and ground personnel.
Take action if you work in a noisy job
If your job requires you to be regularly exposed to loud noise, ensure you are following your employer’s protective ear wear rules. If your employer does not provide custom ear protection, consider buying your own and learning more about federal workplace noise requirements here.
Custom ear protection built from molds of your ear canals is available from audiologists and hearing professionals. This shields you from higher decibels, leading to long-term hearing damage while still allowing you to hear the sounds you need to be effective at work.
Furthermore, annual hearing tests are necessary to create a baseline for your hearing ability. Consider contacting an audiologist or hearing specialist in your area if you work in a noisy setting.