Each year, an estimated 22 million workers are exposed to potentially harmful noise levels while on the job. In fact, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States.
Workers in all kinds of industries may be regularly exposed to noise hazards while on the job. As an employer, it's important to consider your workers' risks of hazardous noise exposure and learn how to help your employees prevent occupational hearing loss.
Foster a safe work environment for your employees by learning more about noise and hearing loss prevention below.
Who is most at risk for damaging noise exposure?
Hazardous workplace noise is not limited to one or even a small handful of occupations. Workers across a wide range of varying industries may be at risk for work-related hearing loss due to onsite noise levels.
Here are just a few occupations and industries that face a high risk for work-related hearing loss:
- Entertainment Venue Workers or Musicians
- Airport Staff
The good news is that despite the large number of workers that experience hazardous workplace noise, hearing loss is preventable.
Why is noise and hearing loss prevention important?
According to the CDC, almost all work-related hearing loss is permanent, which can profoundly impact an individual's quality of life. Difficulty understanding others may lead to isolation, and muting enjoyable sounds – like the voice of a loved one or a favorite song – can lead to depression.
Not only can hearing loss impact an employee's mental health, but it can also increase their risk of physical injury while on the job. If an individual has trouble hearing, they could miss important safety commands and feedback noises while operating machinery.
Those who suffer from tinnitus experience "ringing in the ears." This condition's onset could be due to loud sounds, whiplash, a blow to the ear, or head injury. Persistent tinnitus that occurs with hearing loss can disrupt concentration and sleep, increasing a workers' risk of injury while on the job.
How to help your employees reduce noise and prevent hearing loss
Like all other work-related injuries, it's important to be aware of your employees' risks for hearing loss. First, find out if the noise levels in your workplace or on the jobsite are hazardous. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a permissible exposure limit of 90 dBA (decibels); however, according to the CDC, it's recommended to keep noise below 85 dBA.
Resources are available to easily test the noise levels in your work environment, like the NIOSH Sound Level Meter App. To learn more about the app and download the noise meter on your mobile device, click here.
After you've tested the noise levels, take safety precautions, and protect your employees from occupational hearing loss with the following tips:
- Encourage your employees to take breaks and occasionally remove themselves from the noisy environment
- Use quieter equipment and machinery, and ensure equipment is lubricated and maintained
- Provide and mandate protective equipment, like earplugs or earmuffs, while on the job
- If possible, encourage employees to keep a distance from the source of the noise
- If possible, place a barrier between workers and the source
Occupational hearing loss negatively affects tens of millions of working Americans each year. By taking precautionary measures and encouraging your employees to follow the safety guidelines above, you can help create a safer work environment.
For more information on noise and hearing loss prevention from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), click here.