Some hearing hazards come from our lifestyle. Whether those hazards come in the form of smoking or eating a diet high in saturated fats, our behaviors can lead to poor physical health that has indirect effects on our hearing ability, as well. Other hazards come from lifestyle choices like using earbuds at a high volume. Those who wear earbuds for a large portion of the day and play them at too high a volume could be doing permanent damage to hearing ability, as well. Some of these habits are easier to break than others, but we know that we can take responsibility for our own future hearing health.
When it comes to occupational hearing hazards, the role of personal responsibility is not so simple. Some people find themselves in the position that they must work in very loud environments, and those places of work, particularly when they are endured for a full shift day in and day out, can have lifelong effects on hearing ability. The good news is that even in workplace environments, you can take charge of protecting your hearing. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is there to help you get the protection you need and to put it into practice while you’re on the job. The following practices are crucial to protecting your hearing while you are at work.
Mandatory Hearing Protection
Government agencies like OSHA have strict regulations when it comes to worker hearing protection. Industrial facilities, mechanics, construction sites, and other places that use high-powered machinery tend to emit the most noise, and employers are responsible for protecting their employees from harm. Just like they require the use of hard hats and steel-toed boots, employers require the use of earplugs and more advanced hearing protection to make sure their workers are not injured on the job.
If you are concerned about the level of protection you receive at work, you can take the responsibility of monitoring your own protection level. Smartphone technology makes it possible to measure the decibel level of noise through free apps. Simply download one of these apps, and bring your phone to your workplace. Take several readings to make sure you are getting a good sampling of the noise conditions you are likely to encounter. With these readings recorded, take a look at the noise attenuation provided by your earplugs. How much noise do they eliminate? Most disposable, foam earplugs limit at least 10 decibels of noise, and some can do much more. If you use noise-cancelling earmuffs or customized ear molds, you might be getting a greater reduction in noise. Simply subtract that amount from the total noise level at work to find out how much your ears are enduring.
Duration and Volume
Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by a combination of duration and volume of sound. For instance, a very loud sound like an explosion can do its damage in mere seconds. Other sounds require more time to cause their damaging effects. As a baseline, OSHA and other regulators claim that the human ear can endure 85 decibels of noise for 8 hours without incurring damage. However, for every three decibels of additional noise, that time is cut in half. A person can endure 88 decibels for 4 hours, and 91 decibels for 2 hours, and so on.
As you can see noise at loud volumes can only be endured for a few minutes before it causes damage. For this reason, it is not enough to simply subtract your protection level from the average decibel of noise and then go about your business at work. If there are temporary spikes of noise at the workplace, for instance that caused by a specific tool or task, then your protection might not be sufficient for even an hour of using that device.
Use your personal decibel reading to determine how long you can take part in any given task at work without damage. If you find that you have some tasks that are particularly damaging through loud noise, then talk to your supervisor about supplying more advanced hearing protection for that task or limiting the time that can be spent doing that activity. Though your employer is legally responsible for protecting your hearing, you are the one who needs to make sure they are following through on their obligations.
If you have experienced changes in your hearing, it is important to take a hearing test. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!