It’s popular to think of hearing loss as an unavoidable problem linked with aging, or, more recently, as a consequence of the younger generation’s constant use of iPods. But the numbers reveal that the larger problem may be direct exposure to loud noise at work.
In the United States, 22 million workers are exposed to potentially harmful noise, and an estimated 242 million dollars is expended 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 progressively noisier occupations, showing that being exposed to sounds over a certain level progressively raises your risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss later in your life.
How loud is too loud?
A study performed 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 continually 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 seems that 85-90 decibels is the ceiling for safe sound volumes, but that’s not the complete story: the decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear. That means that as you raise the decibel level by 3 decibels, the sound level just about 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 barely noticeable, normal conversation is about 60 decibels, the threshold for safety is 85-90 decibels, and the death of hearing cells arises at 180 decibels. It’s the area between 85 and 180 that leads to noise-induced hearing loss, and as would be imagined, the jobs with increasingly louder decibel levels have increasingly higher rates of hearing loss.
Hearing loss by occupation
As the following table demonstrates, as the decibel levels associated with each occupation 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 profession with decibel levels above 90 places its personnel 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 every scenario, 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 found that 92 percent of the US farmers surveyed were exposed to damaging noise levels, but that only 44 percent claimed to use hearing protection equipment on a every day basis. Factory workers, on the other hand, tend to adhere to more rigid hearing protection regulations, which may explain why the frequency of hearing loss is moderately lower in manufacturing than it is in farming, despite subjection to near equivalent decibel volumes.
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 precautionary measures. If staying away from the noise is not an alternative, you need to find ways to decrease the noise levels (best accomplished with custom earplugs), in addition to making sure that you take frequent rest breaks for your ears. Reducing both the sound volume and exposure time will reduce your chances of acquiring noise-induced hearing loss.
If you would like to consider a hearing protection plan for your particular circumstances or job, give us a call. As hearing specialists, we can provide individualized 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 (in contrast to the muffled sound you hear with foam earplugs).