Let Jolene lend you an ear

By Megan Steele, Industrial Hygiene Technical Advisor

I love to run in the evenings to decompress after work. I’ll never win any medals or post impressive lap times, but I am diligent in my shuffling. Once the workday is over, I lace up my shoes, pop in my ear buds, and head out to the street. This practice is excellent for my mood and heart health, but as a certain red head showed me, dangerous to my hearing.

When I met Jolene, she had auburn hair…and green hair…and purple hair. She was less of an emerald-eyed woman and more of a modified mannequin. You might meet my Jolene, or one of her siblings, at a BWC demonstration. They act as sound measuring devices, allowing users to attach their headphones to Jolene’s ears and play music. Jolene responds by providing the sound level back to the user in decibels. While Jolene’s response is only an estimate, it does give the user an indication of how safe their typical listening habits are. Mine are not great.

When it comes to preventing noise induced hearing loss, less is more. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides permissible noise exposure levels for the workplace [see table]. The underlying assumption is that there is sufficient quiet time between work shifts to allow the ears to recover. If you experience noise at work and then go home to listen to music at 102 decibels while you run, you may not be giving your ears time to recover. As a result, you could be causing permanent, irreversible hearing loss.

OSHA Table G-16 –Permissible Noise Exposure

Allowable time, hr/daySound Level, dBA
¼ or less115

The good news is noise induced hearing loss is preventable. Here are a few tips anyone can use to protect their hearing:

  • Listen to music at the lowest setting that still allows you to hear it.
  • Instead of using music to drown out nuisance noise, consider wearing ear plugs or using noise-canceling headphones.
  • If you must shout to be heard, it may be too loud! Wear hearing protection in noisy situations like mowing or at a concert.

BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene invites employers to take advantage of our free safety consultation services, including noise monitoring, that can help all types of businesses. Or consider using some of the free resources listed below to learn more about noise induced hearing loss and how you can protect your hearing


Too Loud on the Farm

Listen Up! Protect Your Hearing (National Center for Environmental Health)

Summer Safe Listening (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)

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