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Occupational Hearing Loss: How Workers Can Protect Their Hearing

construction workerHearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the US according to the Centers for Disease Control. Workers may not even realize they are damaging their hearing due to the slow-moving nature of noise-induced hearing loss. High levels of noise exposure can take years to create noticeable damage.

Occupational hearing loss is defined as any hearing loss that is the direct result of exposure to ototoxic (poisonous) chemicals or dangerous sound levels in the workplace. About 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels each year, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Certain industries such as construction, manufacturing and mining are more likely to have workers that suffer from a hearing impairment. Reports show in over 85 percent of occupational hearing loss cases, workers were employed in manufacturing industries.  While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides hearing conservation requirements for employers, not all adhere to the rules, putting employees at risk for irreversible hearing loss. In 2016 alone, US businesses paid more than $1.5 million in penalties for not protecting workers from noise and an estimated $242 million is spent annually on workers' compensation for hearing loss-related cases.

How can workers protect themselves from hearing loss?

  • Monitor the volume. According to OSHA, workers should only be exposed to a maximum average sound level of 85 decibels during an eight-hour shift. For each five decibel level increase above 85 decibels, the maximum exposure time should be cut in half. Exposure to sounds over 85 decibels for extended periods of time can cause permanent hearing loss. Power tools, lawn mower and jackhammers are all above 85 decibels.
  • Wear proper hearing protection. Hearing protection should be worn whenever noise levels are above 85 decibels. Protection can include ear plugs, ear muffs and customizable devices.
  • Have your hearing check annually. A comprehensive hearing exam can provide baseline reports about where your hearing is and track any changes. If you work in a noisy occupation, it’s especially important to monitor any changes in your hearing to prevent permanent damage.

Signs of Hearing Loss at Work

If you are unsure whether or not your hearing has been damaged, signs of hearing impairments include:

Hearing loss at work is a debilitating issue that can be prevented with proper precautions. Hearing loss may not always happen because of a one-time loud event; many times it happens gradually because of exposure to loud noises over the course of several years.

If you or a loved one works in a noisy industry, contact the Pennsylvania Ear Institute for a comprehensive hearing exam. We can determine your current hearing abilities, make recommendations for hearing protection and offer personalized solutions.

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