Workplace’s #1 Injury? Hearing Loss

Dr. David DeKriek
Workplace’s #1 Injury? Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is the number 1 most reported workplace injury.

Did I read that right?

Unfortunately, yes. Although radically preventable, hearing loss still remains the number one reported workplace injury in the United States. Twenty-two million workers are exposed to dangerous noise levels while at work, according to the CDC. The main type of hearing loss caused from being on-the-job is called noise induced hearing loss or NIHL. Noise induced hearing loss is caused by prolonged exposure to excess noise, or even one-time exposures to incredibly loud and abrupt sounds. This means that dangerous sounds at work are rapidly causing hearing loss in our country.

How could this happen in the US?

Although there are laws in place aimed at protecting workers from preventable hearing loss, there also seems to be a general lack of understand on the severity of the issue. Many times, workers are given the opportunity to wear hearing protection, but employees may opt out due to stigma surrounding hearing protection or “comfort”, not fully understanding the hazards of their choice.

Another reason for this shocking statistic may be the fact that NIHL effects multiple occupations across various fields. While about 82% of cases of workplace hearing loss are in the field of manufacturing, many industries also put their employees at risk. For example, construction workers, music technicians, and auto mechanics are all also at a very high risk of hearing loss due to excess noise exposure at their workplaces.

Am I at risk?

Do you frequently need to shout in order to have conversations with your co-workers who are only a few feet away from you? If you answered yes to this question, you are probably at risk. This simple assessment is the easiest rule-of-thumb to follow for quickly determining if one is exposed to dangerous noises at work. Even if you answered no, however, you may still be at risk of hearing loss from excess noise.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH developed guidelines to help employers in keeping their employees safe from noise induced hearing loss. These guidelines state that workers should be exposed to sounds no louder than 85 decibels or dBA over the course of their 8-hour work day. 85 dBA is about as loud as city traffic from inside your car. For each increase in only 3 dBA, the allowed exposure time decreases by half. That means that for sounds at 88 dBA (the sound of a residential vacuum cleaner) the exposure time is only 4 hours. At 91 dBA (about the sound of an average exercise class) the allowed daily exposure rate is only 2 hours per day.

While some industries such as mining and manufacturing are relatively good at educating their employees on these risks – other industries barely mention them. Take bartending at a nightclub, for example. The average nightclub consistently rings in at an astounding 96-100 dBA on average – which equates to only about 15-30 minutes of daily allowed exposure time. Have you ever seen a bartender working only 15 minute shifts or wearing ear protection? When looking at the guidelines set forth by NOISH, it’s easy to see how often employees are exposed to dangerous noise –without even knowing it.

What are my rights?

You have the right to a safe workplace – and this includes protection from excess noise exposure. Ask your employer about their Hearing Conservation Program. According to this program, if you work in a noisy environment, you are entitled to free hearing protection, education and exams.

If you think that you may be suffering from hearing loss because of noise exposure, reach out to us at Fidelity Hearing Center to schedule your comprehensive exam. While noise induced hearing loss is often permanent, getting treatment early is the best way to preserve the hearing you have, while improving overall quality of life with treatment.

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