Nearly 30 million people in the U.S. per year are exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace. Today, it's the second most common self-reported workplace injury. Noise-induced hearing loss has been cited as an occupational health concern for at least 25 years due to its preventability and its permanent, damaging effects. Aside from NIHL and tinnitus, high levels of workplace noise can also cause psychological stress, contribute to other workplace accidents, produce other physical health issues and reduce productivity in the workplace. Some occupations are more likely to be exposed to it than others. Here are the top five most potentially damaging occupations:
Manufacturing and Utilities
In manufacturing, one in nine reported illnesses is due to NIHL. Manufacturing involves loud, large machinery so this should come as no surprise.
There are plenty of noise exposure hazards in farm life. For example, a tractor can make noise up to 112 decibels, crop dusting aircrafts can top out at 116 decibels and combines can be up to 105 decibels when in use. Even pigs' squeals can top out at 115 decibels - and imagine a whole chorus of them!
The CDC reports that 49 percent of male miners have a hearing impairment by the age of 50, which is true of only 9 percent of the general population. Additionally, by the age of 60, this number spikes dramatically to 70 percent of miners.
Construction and carpentry
Some research shows that the average 25-year-old carpenter likely has NIHl that makes his hearing similar to that of a 50-year-old person. By the age of 55, a carpenter is likely to have significant hearing loss.
Military personnel are very susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss, especially those returning from war, due to close-combat fighting, bombs and low-flying aircrafts.
Others that are affected by loud noise in the workplace include airport staff, those in the entertainment industry and others in the transportation sector.
Hearing loss is something to take very seriously. While some people think they will be able to "toughen up" their ears to tolerate elevated levels of noise, our hearing unfortunately does not work this way. Others are simply unaware of the damage they are doing to their hearing.
Still, it's very important to protect your hearing in workplace settings. Here are some things that can be done to mitigate noise levels in the workplace:
- Workers can wear custom-molded earplugs at all times or sound-canceling headphones.
- Noisy machinery can be operated during shifts with the least amount of people working.
- Workers' exposure to certain decibels should be monitored and limited to OSHA recommended guidelines.
- Engineering controls can be implemented that decrease noise, including keeping equipment well-maintained and lubricated, choosing low-noise machinery and tools and erecting barriers between employees and sources of noise.
- Employers can implement a hearing conservation program that includes a yearly audiogram for all employees and other safety and monitoring measures.