It’s common to think of hearing loss as an unavoidable problem linked with aging, or, more recently, as a consequence of the younger generation’s frequent use of iPods. But the numbers show that the bigger problem may be direct exposure to loud noise at work.
In the United States, 22 million workers are exposed to potentially unsafe noise, and a projected 242 million dollars is devoted yearly 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 increasingly noisier professions, suggesting that exposure to sounds over a certain level progressively heightens your risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss later in your life.
How loud is too loud?
A study conducted by Audicus revealed that, of those who were not exposed to occupational noise levels above 90 decibels, only 9 percent suffered from noise-induced hearing loss at age 50. In contrast, construction workers, who are routinely exposed to sound levels as high as 120 decibels, experienced noise-induced hearing loss at the age of 50 at a rate of 60 percent!
It seems that 85-90 decibels is the threshold for safe sound levels, but that’s not the entire story: the decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear. That signifies that as you increase the decibel level by 3 decibels, the sound level nearly 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 perceptible, regular conversation is about 60 decibels, the limit for safety is 85-90 decibels, and the death of hearing cells arises at 180 decibels. It’s the region between 85 and 180 that leads to noise-induced hearing loss, and as would be expected, the jobs with progressively louder decibel levels have increasingly higher rates of hearing loss.
Hearing loss by occupation
As the following table shows, as the decibel levels connected with each profession 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 workers 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 each instance, as the decibel level rises, the risk of noise-induced hearing loss grows.
Protecting your hearing
A recent US study on the frequency of hearing loss in farming found that 92 percent of the US farmers surveyed were subjected to hazardous noise levels, but that only 44 percent claimed to use hearing protection accessories on a daily basis. Factory workers, in contrast, tend to stick to to stricter 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 high-risk occupation, you need to take the right precautionary steps. If staying away from the noise is not an option, you need to find ways to decrease the noise levels (best achieved with custom earplugs), in addition to ensuring that you take routine rest breaks for your ears. Controlling both the sound volume and exposure time will minimize your chances of developing noise-induced hearing loss.
If you would like to talk about a hearing protection plan for your particular situation or job, give us a call. As hearing specialists, we can provide individualized solutions to best safeguard 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).