Protect Your (And Your Employees’) Hearing

According to the CDC, hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the U.S. However, up to half of these cases are noise-induced, which means they are preventable! Hearing loss as a result of noise exposure affects about 40 million American adults.  

How Does Hearing Loss Occur?

When we are exposed to loud or prolonged noise, the hair cells in our inner ears can be damaged. Once damaged, they cannot grow back, making hearing loss a permanent condition. 

Noise-induced hearing loss can occur when we experience sound over 85 decibels (dB) for an extended amount of time. To put that in perspective, an average alarm clock is 80 dB; hair dryers, lawnmowers, and blenders come in at 90 dB. Loud noise above 120 dB (the sound of a jackhammer from three feet away) can cause immediate damage to your ears.   

Hearing loss will continue to progress as long as you are exposed to the noise. And negative effects could continue even after the exposure has stopped, leading to continuing and worsening hearing problems as you get older. 

Do You Already Have Hearing Loss?

You can have hearing loss for years before you even notice it or have it diagnosed. Nearly 25% of adults who report their hearing as excellent to good in fact already have hearing damage

So whether you think you have hearing loss or not, you should take protective and preventive steps to keep it from getting worse. This means:

  • Avoid noisy places; if that’s not possible, wear hearing protection. 
  • Keep the volume down when listening through earbuds or headphones.

If you do have hearing loss, your doctor may suggest measures like hearing aids, assistive listening devices, and in severe cases, cochlear implants.

The takeaway is this:

If you are consistently in an environment where the noise level exceeds the volume of a hair dryer, you need to be wearing proper hearing protection. 

The Workplace is a Key Offender

Consider these facts:

  • Approximately 24% of hearing loss in the U.S. is due to workplace noise exposure
  • 30 million workers are exposed to noise levels high enough to cause permanent hearing loss. 
  • In the manufacturing industry, occupational hearing loss is the most commonly recorded occupational illness.  
  • The rate of hearing loss is greatest during the first 10 years of noise exposure; in most cases, occupational hearing loss occurs so gradually, workers are unaware of it. 

We may hear these statistics and think they don’t apply to us if we’re not in the manufacturing or construction industries. But think again — excessive noise happens in a wide variety of work environments. Did you know that teachers are at a higher-than-average risk of hearing loss? In a recent study, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) determined that a large number of workers within the following service industries have an elevated risk of hearing loss:

  • Newspaper, music and software publishing
  • Renting and leasing
  • Financial transactions
  • Legal advice and representation
  • Overseeing and managing governmental programs 
  • Security and surveillance
  • Educational training
  • Entertainment and recreation
  • Accommodations and food service
  • Machinery repairing
  • Dry cleaning and laundry
  • Landscaping

The good news is, research shows when noise regulations are strongly enforced, safer sound levels are achieved, and hearing loss can be controlled. And indeed, from 2009 – 2019, the rate of occupational hearing loss cases have decreased by 5,000

The downward trend is encouraging, but more progress is needed.

What Hearing Protection Do Your Employees Need?

NIOSH advises that workers are not to be exposed to noise levels above 85 dB over 8 continuous hours, and recommends implementing the following measures: 

  • Purchase low-noise tools and machinery when possible
  • Maintain tools and equipment routinely (such as lubricating gears)
  • Reduce vibration where possible
  • Isolate the noise source in an insulated room or enclosure
  • Place a barrier between the noise source and the employee
  • Isolate the employee from the source in a room or booth (such as sound wall or windows)

Employers should follow OSHA standards for noise exposure to protect their workers and create a safe work environment.

I & O Medical Centers is Here to Help

You and your employees should not have to suffer from preventable hearing problems. As the leader in occupational medicine in Hampton Roads, I & O Medical Centers can develop a customized Medical Surveillance program for your company that includes Hearing Conservation as one of its many elements. 

Our goal is to see both your company and your employees succeed and prosper, in good health! Now, doesn’t that sound good?