It’s typical to think of hearing loss as an inescapable problem connected with aging, or, more recently, as a consequence of the younger generation’s frequent use of iPods. But the numbers demonstrate that the bigger problem may be direct exposure to loud noise at work.
In the US, 22 million workers are subjected to potentially damaging noise, and a projected 242 million dollars is paid yearly on worker’s compensation claims for hearing loss, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
What’s more is that higher rates of hearing loss are found in increasingly noisier professions, revealing that being exposed to sounds over a certain level progressively enhances your risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss later in your life.
How loud is too loud?
A study conducted by Audicus discovered that, of those who were not subjected to work-related noise levels above 90 decibels, only 9 percent suffered from noise-induced hearing loss at age 50. In comparison, construction workers, who are routinely exposed to sound levels as high as 120 decibels, suffered with noise-induced hearing loss at the age of 50 at a rate of 60 percent!
It appears that 85-90 decibels is the limit for safe sound levels, but that’s not the entire story: the decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear. That means that as you raise the decibel level by 3 decibels, the sound level roughly doubles. So 160 decibels is not twice as loud as 80—it’s about 26 times louder!
Here’s how it breaks down: a decibel level of 0 is scarcely perceptible, normal conversation is about 60 decibels, the ceiling for safety is 85-90 decibels, and the death of hearing cells happens at 180 decibels. It’s the area between 85 and 180 that leads to noise-induced hearing loss, and as would be anticipated, the occupations with increasingly louder decibel levels have increasingly higher rates of hearing loss.
Hearing loss by occupation
As the following table shows, as the decibel levels associated with each profession increase, hearing loss rates increase as well:
|Incidence rates of hearing loss at age 50
|No noise exposure
|Less than 90 decibels
Any profession with decibel levels above 90 places its workers at risk for hearing loss, and this includes rock musicians (110 dB), nightclub staff (110 dB), Formula One drivers (135 dB), airport ground staff (140 dB), and shooting range marshalls (140 dB). In each instance, as the decibel level rises, the risk of noise-induced hearing loss skyrockets.
Protecting your hearing
A recent US study on the prevalence of hearing loss in farming discovered that 92 percent of the US farmers surveyed were exposed to hazardous noise levels, but that only 44 percent claimed to use hearing protection accessories on a regular basis. Factory workers, in contrast, tend to adhere to more rigid hearing protection regulations, which may explain why the incidence rate of hearing loss is slightly lower in manufacturing than it is in farming, despite being exposed to similar decibel levels.
All of the data point to one thing: the significance of protecting your hearing. If you work in a risky job, you need to take the right preventative measures. If avoiding the noise is not an alternative, you need to find ways to minimize the noise levels (best achieved with custom earplugs), in addition to making sure that you take frequent rest breaks for your ears. Limiting both the sound volume and exposure time will lower your chances of acquiring noise-induced hearing loss.
If you would like to discuss a hearing protection plan for your specific situation or job, give us a call. As hearing specialists, we can provide customized solutions to best protect your hearing at work. We also offer custom earplugs that, in addition to defending your hearing, are comfortable to wear and can maintain the natural quality of sound (as opposed to the muffled sound you hear with foam earplugs).