It’s popular to think of hearing loss as an inevitable problem linked with aging, or, more recently, as a consequence of the younger generation’s constant use of iPods. But the numbers show that the greater problem may be exposure to loud noise at work.
In the United States, 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise, and a projected 242 million dollars is paid every year 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 occupations, signifying that direct exposure to sounds over a certain level steadily raises your risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss later in your life.
How loud is too loud?
A study performed by Audicus found that, of those who were not exposed to work-related noise levels over 90 decibels, only 9 percent suffered from noise-induced hearing loss at age 50. In contrast, construction workers, who are continually exposed to sound levels as high as 120 decibels, experienced noise-induced hearing loss at the age of 50 at a rate of 60 percent!
It seems that 85-90 decibels is the limit for safe sound volumes, but that’s not the full story: the decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear. That signifies that as you raise the decibel level by 3 decibels, the sound level approximately doubles. So 160 decibels is not two times as loud as 80—it’s about 26 times louder!
Here’s how it breaks down: a decibel level of 0 is hardly noticeable, regular conversation is about 60 decibels, the ceiling for safety is 85-90 decibels, and the death of hearing tissue starts at 180 decibels. It’s the region between 85 and 180 that leads to noise-induced hearing loss, and as would be anticipated, the jobs with progressively louder decibel levels have steadily higher rates of hearing loss.
Hearing loss by occupation
As the following table demonstrates, as the decibel levels associated with each profession increase, hearing loss rates increase as well:
|Occupation||Decibel level||Incidence rates of hearing loss at age 50|
|No noise exposure||Less than 90 decibels||9%|
Any occupation with decibel levels above 90 places its workforce at risk for hearing loss, and this includes rock musicians (110 dB), Formula One drivers (135 dB), airport ground staff (140 dB), nightclub staff (110 dB), and shooting range marshalls (140 dB). In each case, as the decibel level rises, the risk of noise-induced hearing loss rises with it.
Protecting your hearing
A recent US study on the prevalence of hearing loss in farming revealed that 92 percent of the US farmers surveyed were exposed to damaging noise levels, but that only 44 percent claimed to use hearing protection accessories on a daily basis. Factory workers, in comparison, tend to stick to to more rigid hearing protection regulations, which may explain why the incidence rate of hearing loss is moderately lower in manufacturing than it is in farming, despite being exposed to near equivalent decibel levels.
All of the data point to one thing: the importance of protecting your hearing. If you work in a risky job, you need to take the right preventive steps. If staying away from the noise is not an alternative, you need to find ways to mitigate the noise levels (best attained with custom earplugs), in addition to making sure that you take routine rest breaks for your ears. Limiting both the sound volume and exposure time will decrease your chances of acquiring noise-induced hearing loss.
If you would like to talk about a hearing protection plan for your specific situation or job, give us a call. As hearing specialists, we can provide personalized solutions to best safeguard 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 (in contrast to the muffled sound you hear with foam earplugs).