The Number One Injury in the Workplace is...Hearing Loss

When you think of workplace injuries, broken bones, lacerations, and other wounds probably come to mind. There are safety boots and shoes, protective clothing, and hard hats that are required at many job sites to protect against physical injuries. But the number one injury sustained on the job is not what you may think. Hearing loss is the number one work related injury, and one in five Americans suffer from hearing impairment that impacts their daily life and communication. Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs across a wide number of industries, and many workers don’t realize until too late that they have been exposed to dangerous decibel levels on the job.

Where Does Hearing Loss Occur?

Really, anywhere that loud noises are prevalent poses a risk to your hearing. There are some occupations that have increased noise exposure, including mining, construction, manufacturing, landscaping, and law enforcement. However, even “safe” professions such as teaching or business can expose workers to noise that can damage their hearing. Four million workers go into environments with damaging decibel levels every day and ten million people in the United States have noise-related hearing loss. The reported cases of hearing loss accounted for 14 percent of occupational illness in 2007, and most of these cases were in the manufacturing sector. A general rule is if you need to shout to be heard, the noise is at a damaging level to your ears. Some examples of occupational noises that can be damaging include: airline engines, jackhammers, lawn mowers, farming equipment, factory machines, gunshots, ambulances and dentist’s drills. You may become so accustomed to these noises at your workplace that you don’t even think about the consequences.

Symptoms of Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Usually the symptoms of NIHL start out small, and gradually progress into hearing impairment that can severely affect your life. The hearing loss usually begins with higher frequency sounds and in later stages includes lower frequencies, including human speech. Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose that your hearing loss is due to loud noise exposure when your audiogram shows the most loss at the 4,000 hz frequency. This hearing loss will appear as a notch, or a dip, on your audiogram, and combined with your job history can help your doctor pinpoint the source of your hearing loss. The loss can be only in one ear (especially in the case of being exposed to noise on one side, such as gunfire), or in both the right and left ears. Another condition that may develop is tinnitus, which is characterized by a ringing, buzzing, or hissing in the ear. With tinnitus, the sufferer can never just enjoy the quiet, and is always plagued by irritating sounds. Tinnitus is distressing, and it can impact many areas of your life. It can muffle other sounds and speech and make it difficult to hear the sounds you really want to, it can make it hard to sleep due to the constant noise, it can interfere with concentration and focus and make it difficult to read, and it can even affect your mental state and lead to depression, anxiety, and anger. If you are in the early stages of NIHL you may find yourself turning up the volume on the TV, having difficulty understanding conversation, have ringing in your ears, or feel a fullness in your ears after leaving a noisy area. You want to take action before you get to this point, and prevent hearing loss before there is a problem.

Combating Hearing Loss on the Job

The bad thing about NIHL is that it is so prevalent, but the good thing is that it is preventable. There is hearing loss that can occur with age, but up until the age of about 60 you should be able to preserve your hearing. Because some people are more sensitive than others to hearing loss, and it is impossible to predict who is susceptible, and everyone should take precautions. The first step in preventing NIHL is just education, and knowing the loud noises that can lead to hearing impairment will help you to either avoid them or use hearing protection. If you are having to shout on the job to be heard, you are in an environment that could cause hearing loss. While many jobs have standards for noise exposure, you can take charge of your hearing and make changes if there are no standards. Trying to reduce the source of the noise by keeping machinery running smoothly and properly, or muffling noises by putting the source in an enclosure can help lower the decibel level. Using headphones in an already loud workplace can also pose a danger, and using noise-cancelling headphones can help you listen at a lower volume. Wearing hearing protection devices can also help, and earplugs or earmuffs that are approved for noise cancellation can be incredibly useful to minimize noise exposure. If your workplace has hearing protection, make sure you actually use it consistently to protect your hearing. Some examples of noise cancellation devices include disposable earplugs, sound isolating earphones, reusable earplugs, earmuffs, and custom in-ear monitors. Protect the hearing you have, and take action!

How Noise is Measured in the Workplace

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has standards for noise levels in the workplace, put in place to protect worker’s hearing. OSHA both works to prevent NIHL and to monitor workers’ health and hearing. Noise on the job is measured as a time-weighted average (TWA), and measured over the worker’s entire shift. A noise dosimeter is one way to measure TWA, and if employees are exposed to an average of more than 85 decibels over their shift a hearing conservation program must be implemented. All employees must be informed of the noise results and noise protection must be offered to protect hearing. Employees must also take an annual hearing test so that potential hearing problems are detected as early as possible, and when hearing is shown to decline a report must be filed with OSHA. If the average noise level exceeds 90 decibels, there are stricter regulations and the work area may need to be redesigned or newer, quieter equipment might need to be purchased. OSHA can also fine employers who do not comply with noise regulations, or are not working toward making the workplace safer for hearing. OSHA can do surprise drop-ins to ensure that businesses are complying.

What to Do if You Have Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Taking steps as soon as possible to eliminate further damage is crucial if you think you have NIHL from conditions in your workplace. Talk to your employer, use ear protection, and try to eliminate other sources of loud, sustained noises in your daily routine. If you do have hearing loss, Factory Direct Hearing is here with affordable hearing aids to help you regain the hearing you have lost. We offer online hearing aids that are shipped directly to your door with only a hearing exam required. NIHL from your job can not only affect your job performance, work advancement, and take-home pay, but can also affect your personal life. Hearing loss can lead to isolation, loss of hobbies, avoiding social situations, and more, so do what you can to prevent exposure to loud noises on the job. If you are experiencing problems hearing, contact Factory Direct Hearing today to find a solution. We have the best hearing aid brands, including Siemens/Signia, Widex, Oticon, and ReSound—shop online today!