Among the most common work-related illnesses in the US is noise induced hearing loss. 22 million workers are exposed to hearing hazards, and another 10 million are exposed to ototoxic chemicals. Estimates say an annual $242 million in worker’s compensation goes to hearing loss disability. From struggling to understand conversation and socialize with friends to no longer hearing high frequency sounds such as bird songs or the voices of your grandchildren, living with hearing loss is difficult. Occupational hearing loss is preventable! So here’s what you need to know.
Causes of Occupational Hearing Loss
Hearing loss occurs when the ear is exposed to noises louder than 85 decibels (dB) for prolonged periods of time. The structures of the inner ear become permanently damaged by exposure to loud noises such as train whistles (90dB), rock concerts (100dB), or jet engines (130dB). If you have to shout to be heard by the person standing next to you, it’s too loud. Other signs that your workplace is dangerously loud include experiencing ringing in the ears or a dulling of sounds when you leave work. You may even experience temporary hearing impairment. Hearing loss causes physical and psychological stress, impedes communication, and reduces workplace efficiency.
Noisy Work Environments
What jobs put you at risk of hearing loss? Common sectors with noisy work environments are construction, manufacturing and mining. These all use extremely loud equipment. For example, using a jackhammer (120 dB) without protection becomes dangerous after only five minutes. Emergency service workers such as firefighters and police officers are also at risk from sirens and firearms. Even a single gunshot is loud enough to cause instant hearing loss. Musicians also experience hazardous noise, as they are constantly exposed to excessively loud music. Other workers that exposed to loud noise are farmers, airline ground crew, military personnel, and even office staff in crowded offices.
Rather than hearing conservation programs aimed at treating hearing loss, workplaces need to focus on prevention programs to stop hearing loss before it starts! Wearing hearing protection is an easy way to take control of your hearing health. There are many options, from earmuffs and plugs to custom made hearing protection. Workers have the right to safe workplaces. Employers must control noise levels and provide hearing protection. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers must also administer hearing tests, and educate staff about hearing loss and protection. If your workplace does not comply with OSHA standards, you can request a worksite inspection by visiting https://www.osha.gov/workers/index.html.
About Ototoxic Chemicals
While we all know about hearing loss from loud noises, chemicals can also cause damage. Exposure to ototoxic chemicals like heavy metals and asphyxiants can damage the cochlea and cause hearing loss. Painters, construction or factory workers, aircraft maintenance crews, labs workers, and firefighters are just some of the at risk groups. If you work in an environment that contains ototoxic chemicals, wear a face mask and avoid skin exposure to protect your hearing.
Because hearing loss takes place over time, we often underestimate the significance of workplace hazards until it’s too late. Don’t fall into this trap, act now to save your hearing! Occupational hearing loss is preventable.
Contact us for a hearing assessment today!
GREENTREE HEARING & AUDIOLOGY
10900 Manchester Rd.
St. Louis, MO 63122