Hearing Protection is by far one of the most overlooked concepts when it comes to your personal safety. When many people hear the word “safety” they immediately think of something being injured that could immediately impact their day to day life. Hearing however usually doesn’t make their list. Of the just over 20 million Americans that are exposed to dangerous levels of noise in their immediate workplace, just over another 20 percent end up with serious and detrimental hearing loss. Due to our constant use of hearing, we end up taking it for granted. When we’re placed in areas or situations where our hearing can become harmed, we unfortunately don’t realize it’s an issue until it’s too late. In the meantime, think about what you can do proactively to positively benefit your hearing from years to come. It may be as something as simple as investing in a pair of inexpensive ear plugs, or to see if your supervisor will allow you to have limited time in that specific loud area. The following will dive into how common having dangerous sound levels are in a work environment as well as what steps you can take in the meantime to minimize any future damage.
The Simple Facts
Sound affects us in more ways than you know. Hearing is something that we use daily not just to solely interpret sound, but it just overall allows us to interact with those around us. Think about how much you’d miss to be able to hear your loved ones, your favorite music, or your go-to sports game. Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is a very real and serious issue that affects many in labor intensive jobs. NIHL is the result of being around dangerous decibel levels. Decibels is the way to measure sound, which in turn translates to the pressure it gives off. The higher the decibel, the more danger you’re in if you’re around it unprotected.
Your ear breaks down into three major parts. The outer, the middle and the inner ear are different parts of your ear that can all be affected. When it comes to NIHL however, the inner ear is the one that’s the most affected. Inside your inner ear lies what’s called your cochlea, inside this are tiny hairs that pick up vibration from sound. If unprotected and involved in an explosion, gunfire or just simply extended periods of time around loud machinery can cause these hairs to be damaged and broken. Once this happens, these hairs do not regenerate and you are now stuck with hearing loss and sometimes tinnitus. For those unfamiliar tinnitus is a consistent or randomized ringing, beeping or clicking from the broken tiny hairs misinterpreting sound waves. There’s unfortunately no solid fix for tinnitus, but there are steps you can take to live with it and lessen the chances of it happening.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has strict standards in place in order to protect the longevity of workers hearing. In theory, in an area where 90 decibels are present, workers are only supposed to be there for eight hours max. For something as little as five decibels over that, time needs to be cut in half. So let’s say that someone was working in an area with 95 decibels, they would only be able to be there for four hours. For reference, a motorcycle lets out 100 decibels. These are obviously all great ideas in theory, but let’s be honest here and think if all employees or managers follow these guidelines? With that being said, if workers are forced to have to work in these environments for long periods of time, than managers should look at either employing some form of a sound curtain/barrier or looking into making sure all machines are properly lubricated to reduce noise. An obvious fix would also be to see if the company can install equipment that runs at lower decibels.
What You Can Do
The aforementioned changes are all great in theory, but you as the employee rarely have the ability to make those calls. Plus many of those sound solutions can cost a lot of money, and many companies don’t want to shell that out. Solutions for you though are extremely simple and for the most part inexpensive. If you know that you’re going to be working on a job site or in a part of the warehouse where there’s excessively loud noise, than look at implementing a pair of earplugs. For the most part, they’re inexpensive and offer you the ability to shove them in your pocket when you’re done. The best part is if they get excessively dirty or lose them on the job, you can just get another pair without breaking the bank. The obvious downside is you may not be able to hear others well, but if that’s all you can afford than you will have to deal with it for the time being. Also look at electronic models that can not only protect your hearing but boost outside noise like a hearing aid. These will be significantly more expensive but will give you bionic type hearing and the protection you truly need.