Turn it Down, Please!
In the grand scheme of workplace hazards, it can be easy to overlook noise exposure. But hearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the United States. It affects about 22 million Americans each year and costs businesses $242 million in workers’ compensation benefits. The bad news is that once you lose your hearing, you can’t get it back. The good news is that hearing loss is preventable. Your employer is responsible for protecting your hearing on the job. You can do your part by following a few tips off the clock.
Know when enough is enough
If you are exposed to a time-weighted average noise level of 85 decibels or higher over an eight-hour work shift, your employer must implement a hearing conservation program. For reference, vacuum cleaners, blow dryers, kitchen blenders and lawn mowers typically reach 85 decibels. If you have to raise your voice to be heard, speech around you sounds muffled or dull after you leave the noisy area, you can’t hear someone three feet away, or you suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ears), you should protect your hearing.
Pay attention to proximity, duration
We could all use a mute button for our lives now and then. But volume is just one hearing conservation factor to consider. The length of time you are exposed to noise, as well as how close you are to the source of the noise, are other factors in the hearing loss equation. So next time you’re at a loud rock concert, stay toward the back of the venue, and step outside to give your ears a break. They will repay you by serving you well years down the road.
Tool and appliance manufacturers are doing their part to protect consumers’ hearing by offering quieter products. In fact, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health encourages construction and manufacturing employers to participate in its “Buy Quiet” program. You can follow suit at home by purchasing quieter dish washers, refrigerators, garbage disposals and blenders.
Take care of yourself
Preventive maintenance is a cornerstone of hearing conservation. Get your hearing tested at least once a year, and avoid tobacco use and earwax buildup. Both can increase your risk for hearing loss. Finally, remember that some medications can damage your hearing. If you must take a medication that may harm your ears, make sure your doctor checks your hearing and balance before and during your treatment.
Wear hearing protection
Going to concerts, operating power tools and mowing your lawn are everyday realities of life. You can preserve your hearing by wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). Noise-cancelling earplugs, earmuffs and ear plugs are just a few of the many PPE options you can choose from. But PPE should be your last line of defense against any hazard, including noise exposure. The best way to protect your ears is to remove the noise, and the next-best way is to limit your exposure.