Hearing Protection Should Be Job One in the Workplace

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Hearing-Aid.com Offers Tips on Hearing Health at Work

Solid earplugs can provide hearing protection in a noisy workplace.

Solid earplugs - hearing protection for a noisy workplace.

An estimated 10 million Americans have permanent hearing damage caused by dangerous levels of workplace noise.

Exposure to noise is one of the most insidious occupational hazards in the United States and a common cause of sensorineural hearing loss. 30 million workers are exposed to dangerous noise levels every day, and an estimated 10 million Americans have permanent hearing damage caused by noisy work environments. Dangerous noise is defined as any type of constant noise that registers 85 decibels (dB) or louder.

Prolonged, loud noise damages the cilia - hair-like nerve endings that line the cochlea in the inner ear and transmit sound vibrations to the auditory nerve. Once damaged, the cilia do not replicate or mend – hearing loss caused by loud noise is permanent.

Workers subjected to dangerous levels of noise on a daily basis must take extra precautions to protect their hearing. The noisiest manufacturing environments are lumber and wood, textiles, petroleum and coal, food, and printing and publishing, where workers are regularly exposed to noise levels of 90dB or more.

Most of the machines used in these industries emit low frequency noise that travels far and makes it difficult to protect against. The best hearing protection for this scenario are custom ear molds that seal around the ear, creating a barrier against noise. Ear molds are sometimes coupled with earplugs for additional protection. Other custom hearing protection styles includes “earmuffs” that can be clipped to a hard hat, and may also be equipped with radios or headsets.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has strict guidelines in place regarding when employers must provide protection against the effects of noise exposure, but workers should always be aware of their exposure level in the event that protection is not provided by the employer.

Professional musicians and crew members are also very much at risk for hearing loss, with many musical instruments and amplification systems reaching well over 100dB. Music professionals have several options when it comes to hearing loss prevention, and many use in-ear monitors, allowing them to hear the music as a whole while providing a high level of ambient noise reduction. When used at appropriate decibel levels, in-ear monitors can be an effective form of preventive hearing protection.

The first step to hearing protection in a noisy workplace is simply to be aware of the noise level. The use of noise-reducing headphones or earplugs as a matter of course is always a safe bet in noisy situations.

Many people find it helpful to “test” their hearing once or twice a year by taking an informal online hearing test or completing a hearing loss worksheet. Following up with an audiologist or other hearing specialist is typically advised if hearing loss is indicated by test results.

For more information about hearing protection and the dangers of high noise levels without adequate hearing protection, please visit Hearing-Aid.com.

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