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Did you know that the workplace is a common source of loud noise exposure? One time or consistent exposure to excessive noise can permanently damage the auditory system which is the sensory system for hearing. Work environments are a common way people are exposed to hazardous levels of noise. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that nearly 30 million people are exposed to dangerous levels of noise while at work. Additionally, 24% of all hearing loss is caused by occupational hearing hazards which describe risks to hearing health like loud noise and ototoxic chemicals (chemicals that have a harmful effect on hearing). This highlights the importance of practicing measures to protect your hearing health so that you can navigate the workplace successfully and safely.
Understanding Noise Induced Hearing Loss
One time or regular exposure to loud noise can permanently damage hearing. Specifically, loud noise can impair the sensory cells in the inner ear. There are thousands of sensory cells in the cochlea which play a major role in how sound is processed. These cells receive incoming sound waves and convert them into electrical signals which get sent to the brain. The brain is then able to further process these signals which includes assigning meaning to them, allowing us to understand what we hear. Loud noise can cause sensory cells to become desensitized during the weekend which reduces their capacity to process soundwaves effectively. This results in the brain receiving less auditory information, causing hearing loss.
Sound is measured in units known as decibels (dB) and according to experts, noise that exceeds 85dB can be harmful to hearing health. For perspective, this is equivalent to city traffic, a noisy restaurant during peak hours, and a hair dryer. The maximum threshold for safe listening is 8 hours at 85dB but for noise levels that exceed 85dB, exposure time needs to be reduced drastically. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health guidelines recommend that for every 3 decibel increase of noise above 85dB, exposure time should be reduced by half: 85dB: 8 hours, 88dB: 4 hours, 91dB: 2 hours, 94dB: 1 hour, 97dB: 30 min etc. Exceeding these limits can irreparably damage hearing health and cause hearing loss.
Tips to Protect Hearing in the Workplace
Noise induced hearing loss is completely preventable. There are safety measures you can implement to protect your hearing in the workplace. This includes the following strategies:
- Wear hearing protection: there are different types of hearing protection you can invest in like headphones, earbuds, earmuffs, and earplugs. These items provide a physical barrier for the ears which reduces the amount of loud noise that is absorbed. Hearing protection is small and portable, allowing you to conveniently carry this item and wear them when needed.
- Access accommodations: employers are required (by the Americans with Disabilities Act) to provide workplace accommodations to ensure that the workplace is accessible. For people with hearing loss, this can include resources, services, and technologies that support hearing needs. Examples are making physical changes to one’s workspace, using hearing aid compatible phones, providing hearing protection, investing in communication technologies like transcription services etc. Be sure to discuss workplace accommodations and the options your employer provides with your supervisor.
- Measure noise levels: another useful tip is to measure noise levels in your workplace. This allows you to know the levels of noise you are being exposed to so that you can adjust your exposure time. You can measure noise levels by downloading an app that measures decibels, this includes: NIOSH Sound Level Meter App (iOS), NoiSee (iOS), SLPnFFT Noise Meter (iOS), Sound Meter X (iOS), Sound Meter (Android), and SoundPrint (iOS and Android).
- Take breaks: your ears and brain are constantly absorbing and processing sound. So take 5-10 minute listening breaks throughout the day to provide your auditory system with time to rest and recuperate.
- Test hearing regularly: another important safety measure is getting your hearing tested regularly. Hearing tests involve a painless and noninvasive process that measures hearing capacities in both ears and identifies what your hearing needs are. This is a great way to monitor your hearing health and address any changes you may experience over time.
Contact us today to learn more about how you can best protect your hearing health in the workplace and the resources and well as technologies available to help you do so.