The Centers for Disease Control reports that About 25% of all workers have been exposed to hazardous noise, with 14% (22 million) exposed in the last year. This is a staggering number and the most common work-related injury in the US. The problem is that many don’t even realize they are being exposed. Here is all you need to know about noise exposure in the workplace and what you can do to protect yourself.
What is Occupational Hearing Loss?
Occupational hearing loss is defined as any hearing loss that is the direct result of exposure to dangerous levels of noise in the workplace or ototoxic (poisonous) chemicals. Some industries such as construction, manufacturing, law enforcement, farming, and mining are more likely to put your hearing at risk but it can be surprising how loud even a crowded office can become when multiple conversations are constantly happening at once. It is important to understand the sources of exposure and when it could be putting your and others hearing at risk
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
The most common and well-known type of occupational hearing hazard is exposure to loud noise. Sound is measured in decibels and a measurement of 85dB or more can damage your ears. It is not just the level of sound but the length. At 85dB it takes a constant exposure for eight hours or more for damage to occur. This is why an eight-hour shift 5 times a week or more is the perfect environment for hearing damage to progress. As the decibels rise the time it takes for damage to occur quickly becomes shorter. An increase in one decibel is ten times louder, meaning that an increase of 10 decibels is 100 times louder. For instance, an exposure of 90dB, such as busy traffic or a loud vacuum cleaner can cause the same amount of damage in under an hour. By the time sounds reach 100dB it only takes 15 minutes for damage to occur.
Ototoxic Chemical Exposure
Certain chemicals, called toxicants, may cause hearing loss or balance problems. The risk of hearing loss is increased when workers are exposed to these chemicals while working around elevated noise levels. Some of the most common ototoxic chemicals in the workplace include solvents such as carbon disulfide, ethylbenzene, styrene, toluene, trichloroethylene, and xylene or metals such as lead and mercury. If you have to use any of these chemicals in the workplace, make sure they are labeled properly and limit exposure with proper ventilation and protective equipment.
Permanent Hearing Loss
It’s important to protect your hearing now because this nature of the damage is irreversible. We collect sound with our ears but it is the job of tiny cells in our inner ear to send the sound from our ears to our brains where we process sound and understand speech. When sounds are too loud they cause vibrations rough enough to break or destroy these tiny and interictal cells, leaving us with the loss of certain tones, pitches, and consonants.
Addressing Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss often won’t happen overnight, which is why many people live for years without treating hearing loss – They are often not aware they have it. You may not notice you can no longer hear the sounds of the birds in the trees or the leaves blowing overhead. It’s not until someone else points it out that you realize you have an issue. If someone feels comfortable enough to point out a hearing issue, please thank them now. The longer people go without addressing a hearing loss the more likely they are to self-isolate, become depressed and even suffer cognitive decline because of years of poor hearing.
Signs of Hearing Loss at Work
The hardest step sometimes is admitting you have a problem. Once you address hearing loss it can allow you to excel at your job again, connect to the people in your life, and feel more likely to try new things with enhanced hearing. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids, which amplify the specific tones and pitches you struggle with. To find out if hearing aids are right for you, don’t hesitate to take the first step and schedule a hearing consultation today. The longer you wait the worse it will become affecting your performance potentially at the very job which provided the exposure. Speak up about hearing loss now and address your hearing loss today.