It’s common to think of hearing loss as an unavoidable problem associated with aging, or, more recently, as a consequence of the younger generation’s frequent use of iPods. But the numbers reveal that the greater problem may be direct exposure to loud noise at work.
In the United States, 22 million workers are exposed to potentially hazardous noise, and a projected 242 million dollars is spent on a yearly basis 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 progressively noisier professions, indicating that direct exposure to sounds above a certain level progressively increases your risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss later in your life.
How loud is too loud?
A study conducted by Audicus discovered that, of those who were not subjected to work-related noise levels over 90 decibels, only 9 percent struggled with noise-induced hearing loss at age 50. In comparison, construction workers, who are routinely subjected 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 appears that 85-90 decibels is the ceiling for safe sound volumes, but that’s not the complete story: the decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear. That signifies that as you raise the decibel level by 3 decibels, the sound level roughly doubles. So 160 decibels is not two times as loud as 80—it’s about 26 times louder!
Here’s how it breaks down: a decibel level of 0 is hardly perceptible, normal conversation is about 60 decibels, the ceiling for safety is 85-90 decibels, and the death of hearing cells starts at 180 decibels. It’s the region between 85 and 180 that leads to noise-induced hearing loss, and as would be imagined, the careers with increasingly louder decibel levels have progressively higher rates of hearing loss.
Hearing loss by occupation
As the following table demonstrates, as the decibel levels correlated with each occupation 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 occupation with decibel levels above 90 places its workers at risk for hearing loss, and this includes rock musicians (110 dB), Formula One drivers (135 dB), airport ground staff (140 dB), nightclub staff (110 dB), and shooting range marshalls (140 dB). In every instance, as the decibel level increases, the risk of noise-induced hearing loss grows.
Protecting your hearing
A recent US study on the prevalence of hearing loss in farming found that 92 percent of the US farmers surveyed were subjected to dangerous noise levels, but that only 44 percent reported to use hearing protection equipment on a daily basis. Factory workers, in contrast, tend to conform to more stringent hearing protection regulations, which may explain why the frequency of hearing loss is slightly lower in manufacturing than it is in farming, despite exposure to similar decibel levels.
All of the data point to one thing: the significance of protecting your hearing. If you work in a risky occupation, you need to take the right preventive measures. If staying away from the noise is not an option, you need to find ways to reduce the noise levels (best achieved with custom earplugs), in addition to assuring that you take consistent rest breaks for your ears. Controlling both the sound volume and exposure time will lessen your chances of developing noise-induced hearing loss.
If you would like to investigate a hearing protection plan for your personal circumstances or job, give us a call. As hearing specialists, we can provide tailored solutions to best protect your hearing at work. We also offer custom earplugs that, in addition to defending your hearing, are comfortable to wear and can preserve the natural quality of sound (as opposed to the muffled sound you hear with foam earplugs).