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How To Prevent Hearing Loss In The Workplace

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How Can You Prevent Workplace Hearing Loss

Hearing Safety Part I

by Heather Jackson | Oct 4, 2018 | Hearing Conservation Program, Injury Case Management, Occupational Health Management

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 20,000 hearing loss cases that occurred at work resulted in permanent hearing loss. If this could be prevented through simple protection gear and educational training, hearing damage wouldnt have to affect the 30 million American workers it does.

Luckily, it is preventable.

Learn the facts about hearing loss, and some simple steps to improve your hearing conservation practices.

This way, everyone from employers to employees wins!

Take Care When Listening To Music

Listening to loud music through earphones and headphones is one of the biggest dangers to your hearing.

To help avoid damaging your hearing:

  • use noise-cancelling earphones or headphones do not just turn the volume up to cover up outside noise
  • turn the volume up just enough so you can hear your music comfortably, but no higher
  • do not listen to music at more than 60% of the maximum volume some devices have settings you can use to limit the volume automatically
  • do not use earphones or headphones for more than an hour at a time take a break for at least 5 minutes every hour

Even just turning down the volume a little bit can make a big difference to your risk of hearing damage.

Why Do People Suffer Hearing Loss From Work

Staggeringly, about 24 percent of hearing difficulty amongst U.S. workers is caused by occupational exposures. As if this isnt enough, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has reported that 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise each year.

Noise is dangerous at 85 decibels or higher, or if a person has to raise their voice to speak with someone an arms length away. Lots of noises are louder than this, meaning there are many opportunities for sound to cause work-related hearing loss.

In addition, an unknown number are exposed to ototoxicants although the figure is believed to be high.

Ototoxic chemicals are worrying not only because they can cause hearing loss themselves, but they can also make the ear more vulnerable to the damaging effects of loud noise. These chemicals include solvents , asphyxiants , nitriles , metals and compounds , and pharmaceuticals .

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Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss

Prevention is far better than treatment. As mentioned before, this type of hearing loss is 100 per cent preventable and so regular hearing tests are needed. It should be the goal of workplaces to prevent occupational hearing loss.

The responsibility should not be shifted on to the employee. Workplaces can make sure their noise levels are safer and they can do this in a number of ways:

  • Purchasing quiet equipment/machinery to ensure noise levels are not unsafe
  • Administrative controls to reducing the amount of time people spend in noisy environments
  • Remove the loud noise where possible, e.g. removing a piece of equipment or machinery
  • Lowering the amount of noise by substituting a process, e.g. using a press versus a hammer
  • Limiting the number of people exposed to the noise by using sound-absorbing panels/partitions around noisy equipment/machinery

What You Can Do To Prevent Hearing Loss On The Job

  • Causes of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
    • Acoustic Trauma is the term used to describe the damage that an ear suffers due to noise
    • It may be the result of a singular loud sound or a gradual build up due to constant exposure to loud noise
    • The threshold for damaging noise is 85 dBA according to OSHA
    • Hearing damage can be either temporary or permanent depending on the severity of the damage
  • What an Employee Can Do
    • The best way to deal with noise-induced hearing loss is to prevent it in the first place
    • Utilizing protective equipment like ear plugs or ear muffs will help mitigate the sound and protect your ears
    • Ensure that the earplugs or other devices fit properly to maximize their effectiveness
    • Reduce your time around loud noises if possible and take your breaks away from the sources of loud noise
    • If you think that you are suffering from hearing loss, have your hearing tested
  • What an Employer Can Do
    • Employers can provide their employees with protection by implementing controls that reduce noise
    • Examples of effective noise reducing engineering controls include engine mufflers, sound absorbing tile, and low noise equipment
    • Administrative controls such as rotating workers so that they limit their time around loud machinery will also help to reduce hearing damage
    • If engineering or administrative controls are not able to be implemented, employees should be provided with the proper personal protective equipment

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    Headphones And Hearing Loss

    Headphones and earbuds are not in and of themselves harmful to your hearingit’s how loud you crank up the sound when you listen to music. At home, this may not be an issue, if there is little background noise. But with portability comes noisy environments.

    In the quiet of your home, a comfortable listening level may be volume 3 out of 10, but while walking next to a construction site or listening on noisy public transit, this same comfortable volume may be 6 out of 10 and may be potentially damaging. In both cases the music was the same loudness but while listening in a noisier place, the sound level was much higher and potentially damaging.

    Are You Losing Your Hearing 5 Ways You’re Damaging Your Hearing

    According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders , it’s estimated that about 15% of all Americans over the age of 18 report some sort of issue with their hearing. To further quantify this number, that’s approximately 37.5 million people.

    While age tends to be the leading factor associated with hearing loss, there are plenty of other factors that contribute to such issues. One of them is exposure to chronic noise, something that often happens in industrial environments, on construction job sites, or in the home workshops of hobbyists or DIYers. And while certain steps can be taken to prevent further hearing loss, it’s often an irreversible condition. Yes, you can see a medical professional to be fitted for a hearing aid to improve overall hearing, but there is no magic cure for recovering this crucial sense.

    In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how to know whether or not you’re losing your hearing, how you might be damaging your hearing, and what you can do to stop it from getting any worse. Here’s a closer look at everything you need to know about hearing loss and what you can do about it:

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    How Employers Can Help

    Unaddressed hearing loss in the workplace offers challenges to all employees and employers, no matter the field or profession. Providing an inclusive work environment ensures that communication, energy, efficiency, and productivity are maintained at high levels. Employers can provide support and services to those with hearing loss through the company healthcare policy, fulfilling all legal obligations to provide an accommodating work environment, and creating a supportive work space for all employees.

    Most employers offer some form of healthcare to all employees, but ensuring that there is some hearing-specific coverage will help your employees with hearing loss maintain access to the specialists and care they need to manage their hearing loss symptoms. Including a secondary plan specifically for hearing healthcare, like the EarQ Family Hearing Plan will offer all employees discounts for hearing services and hearing aids. This will not only help the employee, but also the families of employees, to establish better communication, increased energy, and increased productivity in the workplace and beyond.

    How To Prevent Or Stop Hearing Loss

    Hearing Loss: Myths & Facts – Safety Training Video – Causes & Prevention

    As is the case with most medical conditions, it’s best to be proactive – and not reactive – when it comes to preventing hearing loss or stopping existing hearing issues from becoming any worse. Here’s what you can do:

    Regularly Check Your Hearing

    It’s good to get into the habit of regularly giving yourself a hearing loss test – and the nice thing about doing so is that you don’t need to go to the doctor to do it. There are plenty of hearing loss tests that you can do at home from your computer, and they can give you an assessment of your hearing in minutes. If your score comes back abnormal, you should make plans to see a doctor. This is especially noteworthy when you consider that hearing loss can stem from potentially undiagnosed underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

    Don’t Raise Your Headphone Volume Beyond 85 dB

    Whether you’re going for a jog, working around the house or just doing work at your desk, it’s common to throw on a podcast or some tunes to help you pass the time. But like we’ve said throughout this piece, if you’re listening to anything on your headphones, you don’t want the volume to exceed 85 dB or else you could risk hearing loss. That’s why every ISOtunes product comes with SafeMax Technology, an 85 dB volume limiter that doesn’t put your ears at risk. You can check your decibel levels on the “Health” app on your iPhone or related app on your Android device.

    Wear Proper Hearing Protection

    Look into Safer Headphones

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    Hearing Loss In The Workplace: Strategies For Success

    Managing hearing loss in the workplace can be challenging. Hearing loss stigma may make you worried about disclosing your disability, and even if you do, others may not know the communications best practices required to help you hear your best. You may struggle in some work situations, but thrive in others, confusing your co-workers and clients. You company may not be aware of the many new technologies that can make communication easier for people with hearing loss. The good news is that there are many strategies for success, but much education is needed.

    So, when Goldman Sachs Disability Interest Forum invited me to speak on a panel highlighting hearing health in the workplace at one of their four Disability Awareness Month events, I jumped at the chance! I was thrilled that a leading global firm like Goldman Sachs chose to prioritize hearing health in the workplace in such a public and impactful way.

    My co-panelists included Holly Cohen, a hearing health advocate and former President of the NYC Chapter of Hearing Loss Association of America , Vanessa Kelley Smith, a Vice President in Goldmans Engineering Division and a member of the Disability Interest Forum Steering Committee, and Paul Reichert, a member of the Goldman Sachs Wellness team. Holly, Vanessa, and I all have hearing loss. We are also all members of the NYC Chapter of HLAA, which is how we met.

    Occupational Hearing Loss Prevention

    According to the NIOSH, approximately 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work, causing an estimated $242 million per year to be spent on workers compensation due to hearing loss disability. NIOSH recommends that workers exposures to noise be controlled below specific levels to minimize occupational noise induced hearing loss.Loud, constant sounds all day at work can cause long term hearing problems. Extreme, sudden noise bursts louder than 90 decibels, such as gunfire, industrial noises, woodworking, motorcycles, loud music and motorized lawn equipment, are more damaging to hearing than regular and extended exposure to more moderate noise over a longer period.

    NIOSH recommends a hearing loss prevention program that includes using hearing protection devices, periodic hearing tests and education for workers along with administrative controls that include accurate record keeping, evaluations and audits.

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    How To Prevent Hearing Loss At The Workplace

    Noise-induced hearing loss is a serious condition that affects millions of people around the globe. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , there are over 10 million people who suffer from noise-induced hearing damage. Out of the thousands of people who develop hearing loss, 23,000 occupational hearing impairment cases were reported in 2007 alone. Moreover, every year, nearly 22 million workers are exposed to environments and noises that are loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss which is why employers must take necessary protective measures to prevent hearing loss that occurs at the workplaces.

    More Men In Noisy Work Places Than Women

    You Can Collect Workers

    This trend is naturally connected to the fact that many more men than women are exposed to high noise levels over many years in their workplaces. While just 3% of the women in the survey worked for more than 10 years in noisy environments, the same was true for 16% of the men.Tinnitus is another affliction associated with years in a noisy job. 13.4% of the men who have worked more than 10 years in a noisy job experience a persistent ringing or buzzing in their ears. This is 2.6 times the prevalence in men who are not exposed to a noisy work environment. Among women in noisy jobs, the prevalence of tinnitus is 2.8 times higher than normal after just 1-5 years of working in a noisy workplace.According to the British survey, the risk of hearing difficulties and tinnitus increases after just one year in a noisy job. After five years in the job, the risk of severe hearing loss is up to three times higher than among people in jobs with little noise.You can lessen the risks of hearing difficulties and tinnitus by protecting your ears with earplugs or other hearing protection devices at all times.Source: Occupational exposure to noise and the attributable burden of hearing difficulties in Great Britain, Occupational and environmental medicine, 2002,

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    How To Know If It’s Too Loud

    Anything over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. That’s roughly equivalent to standing in city traffic or pushing a lawnmower. If you’re out and about and have a smartphone, these apps can help you measure the sound around you. And the following guidelines are good to keep in mind:

    If a situation feels too loud, it probably is. Beyond that, watch for these signs:

    • You need to raise your voice to be heard
    • You are unable to hear someone three feet away from you
    • Speech around you sounds muffled or dull after leaving a noisy place
    • You experience pain or ringing in your ears after being in a noisy place

    Cover Your Ears With Ear Protection Products

    This is the go-to solution one that doesnt require you to move or rearrange your workspace. Ear protection may not seem like an essential piece of equipment, but when your ears are no longer ringing after a long day of handling heavy and loud machinery, youll certainly think otherwise.

    Whether you choose a small set of ear plugs or a soundproof headset, the ear canal has a stable barrier to prevent sound wave vibrations from reaching the eardrum. Of course, the amount of decibel resistance depends on the product. The average set of ear plugs provides a noise reduction rate of around 30dB, while ear muffs can provide greater protection for noise levels over 100dB. Either way, whether used to reduce the sound of a lawn mower or a jackhammer at a construction site, ear protection devices are crucial accessories to have in the workplace.

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    Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss A Practical Guide

    In 1996, NIOSH published Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss A Practical Guide, In this document, NIOSH highlights the hierarchy of controls which can be summarized as: 1) first, prevent or contain the escape of the hazardous workplace agent at its source 2) control exposure by relocating the worker to a safe area and 3) control the exposure with barriers between the worker and the hazard . This hierarchy underscores the principle that the best of all prevention strategies is to have no exposure to agents that can cause or contribute to hearing loss. Corporations that have embarked upon Buy-Quiet programs are moving towards the creation of a workplace where there will be no harmful noise. Many companies are automating equipment or setting up procedures that can be operated by workers from a quiet control room free from harmful noise, chemical agents, and heat. When it is not possible to remove the harmful agent or relocate the worker to a safe area, the worker must be protected. In the arena of hearing loss prevention, protection is a many-faceted process that includes exposure assessment, provision of protective equipment, assessment of hearing with appropriate management and follow-up actions, worker education and training, and continuous evaluation of program effectiveness.

  • Noise exposure monitoring
  • Reducing Your Personal Exposure To Noise

    Protect Your Hearing: What Noise Does to Your Ears

    As mentioned, personal responsibility has to factor in when protecting your hearing. Your organization can provide all the safeguards they can but ultimately you have to monitor your own health and environment. Here are a few things you can do to protect your hearing while at work:

    • Taking a break from noisy activity
    • Wearing soundproofing equipment provided
    • Minimize noise from the source ensure equipment is properly maintained and the quietest equipment is used
    • Reduce your time of exposure to noisy environments
    • Increase the distance between you and the source of the noise

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    Preventing Hearing Loss From Medications

    More than 200 different drugs are known to cause hearing loss or tinnitus as a side effect, according to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association. They include certain chemotherapy drugs, common pain medications like aspirin, certain antibiotics and some diuretics.

    There are certain factors that increase one’s risk of drug-induced hearing loss:

    • high drug concentrations and/or prolonged exposure of the inner ear to the drug
    • dehydration
    • concurrent or history of noise exposure
    • pre-existing hearing loss
    • prior exposure to ototoxic drugs
    • kidney failure

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