Did you know? America’s leading workplace injury is hearing loss.
America’s leading workplace injury isn’t back injuries or accidents, it’s hearing loss. Hard to believe? Excessive noise in many professions means that millions of workers are exposed to dangerous sound levels throughout their working life. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that around 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels every year! It’s estimated that $242 million is paid out in worker’s compensation each ear for hearing loss disability.
Depending on your profession, power tools and heavy machinery are to blame for much of workplace noise. From jackhammers to saws to engines, workplaces are filled with dangerous noise. The loudest careers include mining, construction, and all types of manufacturing, where employees work long hours in excessively loud conditions. However, other professions such as dentistry and even nursery school teaching (the high-frequency sounds of whirring dental tools and children’s voices!) could harm your hearing.
According to Occupational Safety and Health regulations, employers are responsible for their employee’s health. This includes hearing. Workplace noise must be kept within safe levels, or hearing protection must be given to the staff.
So why are there such high rates of workplace hearing loss? The rules are extremely outdated, many dating back to the 1970s. Sound limits are too high, and hearing protection is not required until workers face noise levels that will lead to severe hearing loss. The regulations also do not factor in other noise employees encounter in their daily lives, such as the commute to work, dinner at a restaurant, or a concert.
Making Positive Changes
Mark Cullen, a professor at Stanford University, is advocating for new policies that will force companies to build noise barriers, and replace old equipment in favor of newer, quieter models. Because of the expense, many companies opt to provide hearing protection instead of upgrading. The problem with this approach is that hearing protection is easily removed, and workers often don’t understand the risk to their hearing.
Education plays another big role. Most employers do not provide adequate training and education to their employees, or present the dangers of noise induced hearing loss. By the time workers realize their hearing is impaired, it’s too late and the damage is already done. Some workers may choose not to wear the hearing protection provided, so it is the responsibility of the employer to raise awareness, and mandate the use of hearing protection. For more information on workplace safety and regulations, check out http://www.shelbynews.com/news/article_47c01184-b830-5c2b-9ecf-1263012963aa.html.
Noticing the Signs of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is gradual, and you may not even notice the signs as they creep up on you. For some, it starts as a feeling of pressure in the ears after work, or a ringing sensation. You might notice temporary hearing loss, or a dulling of sound when you leave work. You are not just at risk when operating loud equipment. The shop is loud, and even the noise from equipment running on the opposite end of the floor is enough to add to the daily strain on your hearing. A recent study discovered that jobs resulting in the most hearing loss were actually those that had moderate noise levels, not jobs with high levels of noise. The difference is that “at very high noise exposures, people very faithfully wear hearing protection and at low noise situations, people don’t,” Cullen reports. Just because you haven’t been provided with hearing protection, don’t assume you’re safe. This is when your hearing is at the greatest risk.
Change is very slow, and new regulations will take some time before they are implemented in the workplace. What you can do is protect your hearing, and advocate for upgraded protection and equipment. Your employer is required to keep you safe, and if you believe your workplace does not comply with OSHA standards, visit https://www.osha.gov/workers/index.html to request a worksite inspection.
If you’ve been experiencing changes in your hearing, contact us today at Greentree Audiology for a hearing consultation and exam.
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If you've been exposed to high levels of noise at work, the first step is to come in for a hearing test to assess your current hearing capabilities. During your appointment, you can learn about custom hearing protection options.Contact Us