Have you heard? Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable

By Jeffrey Hutchins, Industrial Hygiene Technical Advisor

Hearing loss is something that can affect any of us not only at work, but in every aspect of our lives.

However, because noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) happens gradually over time, many of us don’t give it the attention it deserves.

That’s why the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) designates every October as National Protect Your Hearing Month. The NIDCD urges you to learn ways to protect yourself, your family and co-workers from NIHL. The following simple solutions from the NIDCD can go a long way toward protecting you from NIHL.

Turn down the volume
Set maximum volume limits on electronics and keep the volume low on music devices and TVs. Sounds at or above 85 A-weighted decibels (comparable to heavy city traffic) put you at risk for NIHL, especially if they last a long time. These days, earbuds are a common concern.

“There’s nothing wrong with earbuds that are producing sound at a low, nontoxic level. But earbuds are bad when you turn them up too loud,” says Dr. James Battey, director of the NIDCD. “My rule of thumb is, if an individual is standing at arm’s length from you and they can hear your earbuds … that noise is probably over 85 decibels and if delivered for a long enough time will cause noise-induced hearing loss.”

Move away from the noise
To reduce sound intensity and the impact of noise on your ears, increase the distance between you and the noise. Think of this simple step when you are near fireworks, concert speakers, or in a loud restaurant.

Wear hearing protection
Sometimes you can’t easily escape the sound, whether you’re at a movie theater, a concert, a sporting event or a noisy work environment. Earplugs or protective earmuffs can help. There is a single number required by law on each hearing protector called the noise reduction rating (NRR). The higher the NRR number, the more effective the protection. Be a good hearing health role model by wearing them yourself. If you don’t have hearing protectors, cover your ears with your hands.

In the workplace, think about the types of equipment or jobs that can cause hearing loss, such as:

  • Circular saws.
  • Chain saws.
  • Firing guns.
  • Air-powered ejection equipment.
  • Air-operated equipment without mufflers.
  • Metal stamping.
  • Machining operations.

Once you have identified the potential sources of loud noises, be sure to take the proper steps to protect yourself and your co-workers from the danger. The good news is NIHL is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable. If you understand the hazards of noise and how to practice good hearing health, you can protect your hearing for life.

BWC can help
Our industrial hygienists can help you identify NIHL hazards in your workplace with on-site consultations. The BWC Library also has plenty of resources, including videos, about noise and hearing conservation.

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