Our five senses help us interpret and enjoy the world around us. This includes not only the beauty in sights and sounds, but also warnings of danger. Hearing is one of the senses we rely on heavily and losing this sense can have a terrible impact on your life. Yet this is the reality for many workers in the U.S. who have been exposed to excessive noise in the workplace. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that roughly 30 million people are exposed to hazardous levels of noise while working and each year thousands of them suffer from preventable and, often, irreversible hearing loss due to high noise levels in their workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 2004, nearly 125,000 workers have sustained significant, permanent hearing loss. If you are a worker struggling with hearing loss because of your work you could qualify for workers’ compensation. Consult with a workers’ compensation attorney to find out what benefits you are entitled to.
Workers at Risk for Excessive Noise InjuriesWhile a loud noise may seem relatively harmless, it is the constant exposure over extended periods of time that can cause great damage. It may sound abstract, but OSHA has actually set legal limits for how much noise is acceptable. For an eight hour day, the limit is 90 decibels. That noise level in real-world context, is roughly the sound of a Boeing 737 one mile before landing or a motorcycle 25 feet away. As the number of decibels increases, the number of hours decreases and a five decibel increase cuts the safe time to half. Many workplaces, across a number of industries, such as manufacturing, agriculture, construction, transportation, and many more contain excessive noise. Some warning signs that your workplace may be too noisy include the following:
- Hearing ringing or humming in your ears after leaving work;
- Temporary hearing loss after leaving work; and
- Needing to shout to hear a coworker standing an arm’s length away.
Hearing Loss and PreventionThe primary danger of excessive occupational noise, of course, is its connection to permanent damage to hearing. Loud noises, such as explosives or gunfire, can cause acoustic trauma, including immediate hearing loss, while others noisy environments, such as airports, may cause hearing loss progressively. Preventing hearing loss injuries can be done at three places: engineering, administrative, and hearing protection devices. All workplaces come with some noise, but workers who deal with high noise in their field should ensure they are taking proper safety measures. Employers can take the following measures:
- Using low-noise tools/machinery and maintaining equipment;
- Placing barriers between employees and noise sources;
- Enclosing the noise source;
- Limiting exposure times for employees and reducing the number of people exposed by operating noisy machines only certain shifts;
- Providing quiet areas for workers as relief from hazardous noises;
- Creating distance between workers and noise sources; and
- Providing and enforcing the use of hearing protection devices, including earmuffs and plugs.