Many workers don’t realize that they may suffer from occupational hearing loss. According to the CDC:
- About 12% of the U.S. working population has hearing difficulty.
- About 24% of the hearing difficulty among U.S. workers is caused by occupational exposures.
- About 8% of the U.S. working population has tinnitus (‘ringing in the ears’) and 4% has both hearing difficulty and tinnitus.
What is occupational hearing loss?
Hearing loss is one of the most common work-related injuries in the country. And it is more likely to be found in construction, manufacturing, and mining industries.
Occupational hearing loss is any hearing loss that is the direct result of exposure to ototoxic (poisonous) chemicals or dangerous sound levels in the workplace.
Signs that you may be suffering a hearing loss or impairment:
- Hearing a ringing or buzzing sound in your ears (tinnitus)
- Having to shout at coworkers even at close distances (i.e., 3 feet away) and difficulty understanding conversations in a noisy place
- Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds (i.e., telephone, alarm clock)
- Experiencing temporary hearing loss
Protect Against Hearing Loss
- Monitor the volume. During an 8-hour shift, workers should only be exposed to a maximum average sound level of 85 decibels. Exposure to sounds over 85 decibels for extended periods (i.e., power tools, jackhammers) can cause permanent damage.
- Wear hearing protection. This might include ear plugs, hearing protection earmuffs or customizable devices. Be sure to wear hearing protection when noise levels are above the 85 decibel level.
- Break from the noise. Take periodic breaks from the noise at work.
- Annual hearing checks. If you work in noisy areas, you should get an annual hearing check. The first check will provide a baseline and then each year after will show any changes in your hearing.
- Know your workplace noise levels. Use sound-measuring instruments to measure the noise levels in your workplace (i.e., sound level meters, noise dosimeters, octave band analyzers).
OSHA Standards: Occupational Noise Exposure
- 1904.10 Recording criteria for cases involving occupational hearing loss
- 1910.95 Occupatyional noise exposure
- There are 28 OSHA approved State Plans, which are required to have standards and enforcement programs that are at least as effective as OSHA’s.
Learn more about noise-induced hearing loss on the CDC website.