How To Prevent Work-Related Deafness

When you turn eighty and people have to shout so you can hear them, that’s not too alarming. After all, eighty is light years away from today. But when you’re in your thirties or forties and you notice significant signs of deafness, it’s a legitimate cause for concern. Asking people to repeat themselves because you didn’t understand what they were saying, or someone complaining about the volume of your music player – these are telltale signs of hearing loss.

One common type of adult deafness is noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL. NIHL is caused by prolonged and constant exposure to noise. In most cases, the exposure comes from the workplace. Occupations where employees are most often subjected to noise exposure are airline and airport workers, firefighters and workers in manufacturing companies and construction sites. If proven that the hearing loss is a result of the employee’s work, the injury is usually covered by worker’s compensation. Click here to get more information about your rights if you suffer from an injury incurred because of your occupation or the working conditions.

Ear muffs sign - warning of engine noise

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that approximately 23, 000 cases of occupational hearing loss that resulted in hearing impairment were reported in 2007. Noise is measured in decibels. To avoid the risk for NIHL, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the US federal agency for the prevention of worker injury and illness, recommends that workers should not be exposed to noise at 85 decibels or higher for eight consecutive hours to reduce the risk of noise induced hearing loss. Prolonged exposure to these conditions can cause irreversible hearing loss.

There are many types of instruments and methods to measure noise level in the company you work for. Measuring sound in a noisy work environment is important to establish if noise level is compliant to recommended decibels and institute the necessary protective actions.

Hearing loss has adverse consequences. Communication becomes difficult and co-workers and friends may even ostracize and ridicule you. This leads to depression and isolation. If you work in a noisy environment, you can take measures to prevent it from happening to you. It also helps to bring the matter up to management so that corporate programs can be created to protect you and your fellow workers. Here are recommended guidelines to follow:

  1. Use personal protective equipment at work. Ear plugs and ear muffs are the standard hearing protectors for the workplace.
  2. Ask for rotation of duties so that length of exposure to noise is reduced.
  3. Suggest the use of materials in the workplace that will absorb reflected noise, such as open cell foam or mineral wool.
  4. Recommend enclosure around noisy machines to reduce sound travel.
  5. Ask for silencers to be fitted onto air exhausts and nozzles.
  6. Seek regular maintenance of machines to reduce noise. Machines deteriorate as they become older and make more noise.
  7. Suggest replacement of noisy machines to models that do not make as much noise.
  8. Ask for a baseline audiogram testing to determine your hearing capacity at the start of employment. This will be your reference for possible diagnosis of NIHL. The baseline audiogram is required of employers for their workers who are assigned to noisy environments.