Most of us go through life taking our senses for granted. Like touching, tasting, smelling, and seeing, hearing is something we do automatically, without giving it much thought. But when something goes wrong with any of our senses, including hearing, we expect medical science to have a miracle cure. Unfortunately, medicine offers only moderate improvement for people with hearing loss. Hearing loss cannot be restored for most people. Lots of people suffer some degree of hearing loss. Farmers, construction workers, people exposed to constant loud noise on the job, whether at home or through their hobbies (even fans of loud music), have at least one thing in common. They are at risk of permanent hearing loss.
Exposure to normal noise levels does not cause hearing loss. Hearing loss occurs because of overexposure to high noise levels. Noise is measured in units called “decibels”. The higher the decibel, the louder the noise. To help you see the difference in the decibel scale, look at these examples of various noise levels.
• 20 – a soft whisper
• 30 – leaves rustling, very soft music
• 60 – normal speech, background music
• 85 – heavy machinery with a sound proof cab
• 90 – lawnmower, leaf blower, electric shop tools
• 100 – heavy machinery without soundproof cab, motorcycles
• 115 – loud music, sandblasting, machinery in water plant
• 140 – jet engine, shotgun
In the workplace, hearing protection must be used to reduce noise exposure for anyone who is generally exposed to 90 decibels or more over the course of their workday. Hearing protection may be used at lower levels, particularly for people who are very close to the 90-decibel exposure level. Sounds above 120 decibels can cause hearing damage after only a brief exposure and should be avoided unless hearing protection is worn.
Speaking of hearing protection, you’ve probably seen lots of different types. Keep in mind that not every type of hearing protection is good for every type of noise. Disposable foam earplugs may be fine for some noise exposure. Earmuff-type protection may be more appropriate for another.
It is the employer’s responsibility to assess noise exposures and provide appropriate hearing protection as needed to everyone in the workplace. It is the worker’s responsibility to use the protection consistently and correctly. Hearing protection is of no use if it is not worn. Remember also that hearing loss does not often occur after one exposure. It takes time to develop a significant hearing loss; you must develop a habit of wearing the correct hearing protection when in a hearing exposure area or activity.
Keep in mind that equipment operators aren’t the only ones who may need protection. Other people who work nearby may be exposed to too much noise, too. If you work in a noisy area, even if you’re not the one making the noise, be aware of the hazard and use protection.
Another thing that might cause unnecessary noise exposure is poorly maintained equipment. Keeping equipment properly lubricated and in good condition helps keep down the noise. If you become aware of noisy equipment that hasn’t been noisy before, report the condition so proper hearing protection can be provided until necessary repairs are made.
Away from the workplace hearing protection is your total responsibility. Don’t risk your hearing for the sake of a hobby. Keep music at a reasonable level. It may be hard to admit, but if other people tell you your stereo is too loud, it probably is! If you ride a motorcycle or another noisy vehicle, protect your hearing. In your workshop, use hearing protection that is appropriate to protect against the noise.
Think of the sounds you take for granted and imagine life without them. Don’t let unnecessary exposure to noise take them away. You can do something to protect your hearing. Take the time to know what protection to use and use it faithfully. Your hearing can last a lifetime with a few common sense precautions.
Contact OMAG Risk Management Services if you have questions about this or any other workplace safety issue. Kip Prichard can be reached at (800) 234-9461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.