Hearing Loss, Tinnitus and the Workplaceworkplace hearing loss and tinnitus

Increased testing of workers hearing shows, without doubt, that high-noise levels at work will damage hearing. The damage to hearing includes hearing loss and tinnitus. If you are not wearing proper hearing protective equipment your chances of experiencing hearing and tinnitus will certainly increase.

What types of Workplaces are more dangerous?

Now imagine a loud work place with noises from equipment, machines along with other heavy machinery operating at their normal capacity. Such environments may include manufacturing, engineering, construction, mining, agriculture, aviation, road and rail transport and some areas of medicine. The noises may be consistently loud and prolonged every single day. Conditions like these are not only uncomfortable at the time, if you are not wearing the proper hearing protection equipment, but over time the complex structures of the ear and brain deteriorate. The deterioration can go unnoticed until considerable hearing loss or tinnitus is finally diagnosed.  It is estimated that roughly 22 million Americans are exposed to harmful noise in their workplace. This does not include Americans who are subject to high incidental noise levels in their non-workplace environment.

What is being done to protect workers?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has generated – regularly reviewed/ modified – instructions for noise level exposure on the job. The guidelines include decibels (loudness and pitch) and duration (how long) a worker is exposed to noise. Noise exposure can vary greatly within a shift. The calculation of noise exposure across the days and weeks of work is difficult.

The  National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) aims to promote productive workplaces through safety and health research. The NIOSH continue to guide and educate industries, workers and employers towards more strict thresholds for worker protection.  “The NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) for occupational noise exposure is 85 decibels…… Exposures at or above this level are considered hazardous”

More than Ear Muffs and Ear Plugs

The NIOSH also recommends an wholistic approach to noise and hearing loss protection

  • Eliminate or move the noise somewhere else
  • Upgrade to Quiet Equipment and Tools
  • Separate people from the noise
  • Change the time spent with the noise
  • Wear quality rated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

What can you do to improve your Workplace

Working with an OSHA representative to assess your workplace is a good start. Workplace Sound Level Testing will gather real time, objective  information about the potential noise hazards. Understanding the risks, followed by investing some effort into investigation of options to eliminate the noise, upgrade equipment, separate people, alter shift structure and provide AND USE PPE is the logical and worth the effort way forward.

What else can you do?

Monitoring of workers hearing is essential. The best protocol is to test the hearing of workers when they begin with the organisation and then retest annually. Having a base level to compare with just makes sense! For long term older workers there will be an element of the ageing process in their hearing changes. Professional Audiologists are able, through different tests, are able to differentiate between “normal” ageing and workplace hearing loss and tinnitus.

Hearing loss has serious implications for workers who work in noisy workplaces. Workplace assessment, worker testing and implementation of noise related action will help to safeguard worker hearing. Hearing loss and tinnitus is avoidable.