According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common occupational injuries. You may be exposed to dangerous loud noises which can cause permanent hearing loss, and not even realize it, since this can occur over time. Take control of your exposure before it is too late!
The National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that workplace noise is likely to be hazardous if you have to raise your voice to talk to someone who is an arm’s length away from you. The noise level may also be too loud if after you leave a noisy area, your ears ring or sounds seem dull. To prevent hearing loss, experts recommend hearing protection when exposed regularly to noise levels at 85 decibels (dB) or higher. This is less noise than the output of average traffic, most power tools, a shotgun blast or a rock concert.
If hearing becomes difficult for you, you may also be at risk for far more serious injuries. For instance, if you are unable to hear warning signals or shouting coworkers, you may not be aware of potential dangers or emergencies. This could cause you to be involved in a serious accident.
Curious if the noise in your workplace has had some effects on one of your most valued senses? Do any of these warning signs “sound” familiar?:
- You strain to understand conversations
- You think people are mumbling or not speaking clearly
- You need others to repeat what they say frequently
- You watch people’s faces intently while listening to them speak
- You need to increase the volume on the television or radio to the point that others find it too loud to bear
- You experience ringing in the ears or feel dizzy
The last warning sign of hearing loss, called tinnitus, is the most serious. Tinnitus occurs after repeated exposure to excessive noise without adequate hearing protection. This injury is irreversible and can lessen your quality of life.
To reduce your risk of hearing loss on the job, you should always wear some form of hearing protection, even if you feel you may not need it. There are a variety of sizes, shapes and styles of hearing protection to choose from. Some of the most common include:
- Single-use ear plugs (selfforming)
- Pre-formed or molded earplugs, which are individually fitted by a professional (there are both disposable and reusable types)
- Earmuffs that form a perfect seal around the ear (facial hair, eyeglasses, long hair and facial movements can reduce the protective value)
A hearing test is the best measure of determining if you are at risk for hearing loss. If you are regularly exposed to loud noises at work (or in life), take a hearing test annually. For more information on workplace hearing loss, as well as additional resources such as a noise meter, frequently asked questions and information about how to choose ear protection, visit NIOSH’s website: www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise