The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that the workplace exposes about 30 million individuals to dangerous noise levels every year. Occupational hearing loss has been “one of the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the US for more than 25 years,” they say. Workplace noise can very easily lead to noise-induced hearing loss which, unlike the other major cause of hearing loss, is entirely preventable.
The loudest professions can include construction, manufacturing, farming and surprisingly, education. Classes of unruly children can do more than jeopardize your lesson plan, they could be causing your hearing damage. Also, the quiet of a farm is often disrupted by the rumble of heavy machinery and the grunts of various livestock.
The effects of untreated hearing loss at work
Working with untreated hearing loss will impact the performance of your work and may put your safety at risk. If you are unable to interact with colleagues or have not understood the instructions obtained from your boss, you could put everyone at danger, not to mention find it more difficult to be effective in meetings.
Impaired hearing also impacts your wage. In a recent study, the Better Hearing Institute’s Sergei Kochkin found that those with untreated hearing loss made about $31,000 less per year than others. Other research has shown that promotions often pass by those with hearing loss, and to top it off, they also suffer more workplace discrimination due to their condition.
When does workplace noise become illegal?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a U.S. Department of Labor organization with the challenge of making the working environment as safe as possible for Americans. Exposure to harmful noise is a significant concern for OSHA among many workplace hazards facing American employees.
We all measure sound in units called decibels (dB). The human ear hearing limit is 0 decibels, yet the average individual can hear sounds as small as 10 decibels, the sound of a leaf falling from a tree. We can also hear noise up to 140 decibels (the sound of a jet taking off), but this level would be painful to be exposed to.
Any noise at or above 85 dB can harm the ear. The longer you are subjected to this level, the more your hearing can be damaged. Extended noise exposure at or above 85 dB may lead to long term damage or, worse, loss of hearing. Construction workers for example are at high risk because the machinery they frequently use is well above the 85-dB level, such as forklifts and bulldozers.
OSHA has ruled that an employee should only be subjected to a maximum average of 90 dB over an 8-hour working day. In addition, any increase of 5 dB over the average of 90 should be reduced even further, exponentially. For instance, 95 dB of noise can only be endured for 4 hours, and 100 dB can only last for 2 hours.
How to protect yourself
Preventive action is needed in noisy workplaces because of these noise hazards. The most significant step you can take to prevent occupational loss of hearing is to wear hearing protection. Earmuffs and earplugs can stop hearing loss if they are used regularly and correctly. Employers must to provide instruction on how and when to use this safety equipment.
While many employers of jobs in noisy industries do provide hearing protection as standard, investing in your own custom hearing protection is also a clever move. Custom hearing protection is designed to mold to your ear canals, providing better protection and a snug fit.
If for an eight-hour working day you are subjected to sounds above 85 decibels, without hearing protection, then talking to your employer is essential. Approximately $242 million is spent annually on worker disability compensation linked to hearing loss, so your employer will likely take your complaints seriously.
Southeast Medical Hearing Centers
If you believe you already have hearing loss, whether due to noise-induced hearing loss, noise in the workplace, or any other reason, testing your hearing is the best thing you can do right now for your hearing health. If it shows a hearing loss, you should treat your hearing loss right away. Treating your hearing improves your ability to communicate, reduce work stress and maximizes overall well-being. Contact us for a consultation today.