Occupational Hearing Hazards

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis of employment data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, US adults are working later into their 60s than ever before. In May 2016, “18.8% of Americans ages 65 and older, or nearly 9 million people, reported being employed full- or part-time.” Furthermore, researchers pointed to a steady increase from the year 2000 (as far back as they took their analysis). In May 2000, “just 12.8% of 65-and-older Americans, or about 4 million people, said they were working.”

With these statistics in mind, it is also important to point to the prevalence of occupational hearing loss. According to the Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, occupational hearing loss is “one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. Approximately 22 million U.S. workers [are] exposed to hazardous noise levels at work.”

Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Exposure to loud sounds is one of the leading causes of acquired hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss occurs when you are exposed to loud sounds, measured in decibels (dB). Regular conversations hover around 60 dB. Hearing specialists believe that sounds over 85 dB, with an exposure time of 8 hours, has the potential to permanently damage one’s hearing. Dangerously loud sounds could harm and permanently damage the hair cells of the inner ear, which are responsible for translating sound vibrations into neural signals to be received by the brain as sound. When these hair cells are damaged, they do not regenerate and could lead to permanent hearing loss.

Hearing loss is most common among people over the age of 65, with one in three people experiencing some degree of hearing loss. Considering the prevalence of work-related hearing loss and the realities of older American workers, it is never too late to pay attention to occupational hearing hazards.

The Loudest Professions

Here are some of the loudest professions, ranked by order of decibel level:

  • School teacher – 85 dB: Studies have measured noise levels in schools to fall anywhere between 40 to 105 dB. Working with kids also exposes teachers to the higher-frequency sound of their voices, which could cause hearing damage at high volumes.
  • Manufacturing/construction – 90 dB: According to Dangerous Decibels, “A bulldozer that is idling is loud enough at 85 dB that it can cause permanent damage after only 1 work day (8 hours).” The machinery in manufacturing warehouses average at 90 dB; coupled with the open floor plan and concrete floor and structure, long work hours could lead to hearing loss.
  • Agricultural worker – 107-112 dB: Gardens may seem peaceful, but the weed trimmers and lawn mowers that are used to manicure landscapes can generate high noise levels. Farmers are exposed to the 112 dB of tractor engines regularly, and studies have shown that by age 30, 25% of male farmers experience hearing loss.
  • Service or military – 110-140 dB: Firemen, policemen, and ambulance drivers are exposed to the loud sounds of sirens daily, while garbage collectors operate trucks that clock in around 110 dB. Members of the military are exposed to loud noises during combat; it was found that 65% of troops returning from Afghanistan suffered from noise-induced hearing loss. Other professions within this range of hazardous decibel exposure are carpenters and musicians.
  • Air traffic controller – 140 dB: Air traffic controllers and ground control staff at airports are exposed to the loudest noise. Most airplane engines measure at 140 dB, while some jet planes hit as high as 190 dB (which will cause immediate damage to hearing). Most air traffic controllers and ground staff are provided with custom ear protection.

Protecting Your Hearing in the Workplace

Workplace noise is a given, whether you’re in an office with the phone ringing and the copier buzzing or managing the lights at a music venue. As a general rule, if you have to shout to be heard by someone an arm’s length away, then your workplace is too loud. If your employer does not provide hearing protection, consider investing in custom hearing protection, which is molded to your ear canal to give you the best fit and protection.

If you work in a noisy industry, it is important to establish a baseline of your hearing abilities and to take an annual hearing test. This helps you track your hearing abilities and seek treatment should a hearing loss appear.

To schedule an appointment for a hearing test and to learn more about hearing conservation on the job, contact us at Glendora Hearing today.