Workplace Hearing Loss Can Be Prevented

Hearing Protection is VERY Important in Certain Occupations:
When workers are continuously exposed to loud noise over a period of time, hearing loss can happen. It is common when people are exposed to loud noise in their occupation. This is especially true of industrial hearing loss for workers in construction and manufacturing jobs. The constant loud noise on a day to day basis can significantly damage hearing.    

The Reality of Hearing Loss:
Once hearing is gone, it is gone forever.  Sure, a person can get a hearing aid but it will never be quite the same.  A hearing aid might “buzz” and sounds might be heard differently.  The volume on the hearing aid will need to be turned up and down in order to be able to hear in different situations.  Family members might joke about how loud a TV sounds in the room of the person with hearing loss but it really is not a joking matter.  Especially since hearing loss can be prevented by wearing industrial hearing protection when there is exposure to loud noise on the job.  
Hearing Protection CAN Prevent Hearing Loss:
Our ears have reflexes that protect them from damage, but once noise goes beyond a certain decibel level, this mechanism is unable to protect our hearing.  When there is continuous loud noise, the muscles in the ear become stressed and can not do their job. Humans are born with a few thousand hair cells in the inner portion of the ear and these hair cells do not reproduce. They are fragile and can be destroyed by loud noise which can lead to permanent hearing loss. Repeatedly being exposed to loud or even moderate noise can also damage the ear. 

Hearing Loss is PROGRESSIVE:
Dull, ringing sensations in the ears after a day of work is an indication that a worker has gone beyond the sound level that can be tolerated.  If this happens on an everyday basis, this person is most likely experiencing the first signs of hearing loss.  Repeatedly doing this to hearing can eventually lead to permanent hearing loss. Some loud noises can cause hearing loss within seconds. These loud piercing noises can damage hearing immediately. For example, if employees have been exposed to the screeching, piercing sound of cutting metal even once on the job, they could already have experienced some hearing loss.   

OSHA Gets Involved to Protect Workers in Industry:
OSHA requires that employers utilize feasible administrative or engineering controls to reduce sound levels on the job if workers are subjected to sound levels which exceed those listed in table 2.  If the controls cannot reduce the sound levels, hearing protection is required to be provided by the employer.  They have the responsibility to provide the appropriate hearing protection given the noise level at the workplace.   It is important that workers are trained and educated in the proper use of hearing protection because studies have proven that if employees are not trained or motivated to use hearing protection the results will be ineffective. Damage to hearing will still occur.  In work areas where there is a high level of noise exceeding the recommended levels, OSHA requires establishing a baseline audiogram for each worker in order to monitor their hearing and then annual checkups thereafter. 

Choose Hearing Protection Wisely:
When choosing hearing protection, there are a number of variables that have to be taken into consideration when making the purchase.
  1. The degree of protection needed based on the noise level that needs to be blocked out is an important factor when choosing hearing protection.
  2. Comfort is important when choosing the right hearing protection because the more comfortable the device, the more likely that it will be worn consistently.
  3. The ease of being able to communicate while wearing hearing protection is also extremely important.  This is why some workers opt for ear muffs which can be easily lifted up in order to hear someone speaking.
  4. Lastly, the proper fit is important so that there is not any air leakage that allows sound to bypass the device and enter the ear. 
Types of Hearing Protection:
There are different types of hearing protection available and selection should be based on the type of protection needed due to the noise along with personal preference in regards to comfort and convenience. The two most popular types of hearing protection are ear plugs and ear muffs.

Disposable Ear Plugs - Ear Plugs come in different sizes to fit different size ear canals. Some are made of a foam material that will expand to fill the ear canal and offer a good seal. This type of hearing protection is usually a good choice when there are many workers who will go through a large quantity of ear-plugs.

Reusable Ear Plugs - This type of hearing protection can be washed and reused.

Ear Muffs - Earmuffs enclose the entire ear and fit firmly against the head.  The inside of the ear muff is filled with foam that can reduce noise up to 30 decibels. Ear muffs and ear plugs can be used together when there is exposure to very loud noise.      

Noise Levels in the Industrial Workplace: 
The chart below was taken from various sources to give a general understanding of the noise level that people are exposed to daily in the workplace.  This can be used as an evaluation tool to estimate the risk of hearing loss but be aware that these levels could be higher or lower depending upon the environment and distance to the object.   85 decibels is generally the accepted maximum level of exposure to noise

                                                                                                                                        Table 1

Decibel Levels in Industry                                                                                                         

(A decibel is a dimensionless unit that is used to compare the magnitudes of powers, intensities or pressures)

0 = A whisper  
 60 = A conversation between two people  
 80 = A loud radio  
 85 = Handsaw  
 87 = Forklift  
 90 = Farm Tractor  
 90 = Traffic in a city  
 90 = Arc Welder  
 95 = Electric Drill 105 =   Diesel Truck
105 = Printing Press
100 = Bulldozer
110 = Power Saw
110 = Power Mower
120 = Oxygen Torch
120 = Sandblasting
130 = Jackhammer
140 = Standing by a jet engine
180 = A rocket at take off      

OSHA sets Guidelines for Occupational Noise Exposure:
OSHA’s Standard Occupational Noise Exposure 1910.95 protects workers from the harmful effects of noise exposure.  There is a table that OSHA refers to that states the duration of hours that a worker can be exposed to a certain decibel level of noise. This table can be used along with the one above to predict the amount of noise that workers are exposed to on a daily basis.

                                                                                     Table 2 

Daily Noise Level Exposure Permissible by OSHA 

Duration per hour per day                           Decibel Level                                 
8.0    Hours                                                     90 db 
6.0    Hours                                                     92 db
4.0    Hours                                                     95 db
3.0    Hours                                                     97 db
2.0    Hours                                                     100db
1.5    Hours                                                     102db
1.0    Hours                                                     105db 
 .5     Hours                                                     110db
 .25   Hours                                                     115db 

Information and Training is the First Step for Healthy Ears:
Industrial Hearing Protection is an important part of a safety program.  Workers need to be informed about the hazards of noise on the job.  They should be trained to use industrial hearing protection in order to preserve their hearing. Each worker has one set of ears to last a lifetime- they should be well protected!                                                                                                                                          


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