How to Prevent Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in the Workplace

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) occurs when a person’s auditory system is exposed to noisy environments for long periods of time. This type of hearing loss can be temporary because the auditory system can heal over time. However, if exposed to noisy environments without protection for extended periods of time like a day job, then the hearing loss can become permanent.

Those who work in loud environments like manufacturers, airport tarmac workers, and more need to wear proper protection to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

Read the rest of this article to get in-depth information about NIHL, who is at risk, and how to prevent permanent damage.

Who is at Risk for Noise-Induced Hearing Loss:

If you are someone who works in the military, as an airport tarmac worker, firefighter, racecar driver or pit mechanic, manufacturer, or farmer, you may be at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. Read the infographic below to see the risks for each profession:

As you can see, these professions can easily lead to NIHL. Anyone working within any of these job areas can be exposed to over 85 decibels each day, eight hours or more at a time.

According to an article published in the Military Medical Research journal, “The two most prevalent service-connected disabilities for veterans in the United States at the end of the fiscal year 2012 remain tinnitus and hearing loss…”

Tinnitus is when a person experiences ringing in one or both ears; this is commonly caused by loud noise exposure. Therefore, it should be the utmost priority for those in the military to use proper hearing protection.

In addition to first responders and public workers, those who work in production—manufacturing, and farming—are at high risk for NIHL.

Published by the Cleveland Clinic, audiologist Sharon Sandridge, Ph.D., writes, “According to the CDC, almost half of all people in manufacturing have been exposed to hazardous noise levels”. Those who work in manufacturing, often work eight-hour days, causing long-term exposure to noises above 85 decibels.

Similarly, farmers work long hours around consistent heavy machinery noises. When they are not around machinery, they are still at risk of hazardous noise levels.

For instance, an article published by the National Institute of Health claims, “Pig squeals alone can reach 100 A-weighted decibels (dBA)—about as loud as a lawnmower”. Even the most everyday occurrences like pigs squealing can reach hazardous noise levels!

How loud is too loud?

85 decibels is the line of safety for protecting your hearing. When exposed to noise above 85 dBA, protection should be used. See the chart below to get a better understanding of decibels and hearing.

Exposure levelDecibelsExample
Low70 dBAWashing Machine
Low80 dBATraffic noise inside a car
Medium90 dBALeaf blower
Medium-high100 dBASporting Event, lawn mower
High110 dBARock concert, large machinery
Very high120 dBASiren

Everyday activities like using a leaf blower or hearing sirens can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. However, one of the big keys to the above information is time.

For instance, if a person is using a leaf blower for over two hours without hearing protection, they will be at risk for NIHL. Whereas, a siren, being one of the loudest everyday noises, can cause hearing damage within one minute without protection!

How Does Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Happen?

When a person’s ear picks up noise, the sound vibrates the eardrum which in turn vibrates the hair cells in the inner ear. When exposed to loud noises (above 85 dBA) without protection for an extended time, the hair cells can be permanently damaged leading to hearing loss.

How can you prevent permanent damage? The first solution is time. The key reason for permanent noise-induced hearing loss is extended exposure without protection. If there is no time for the hair cells in the inner ear to heal before the next exposure to hazardous noise, then they can be permanently damaged.

However, if you are someone who works in a profession mentioned previously and you are exposed to loud noise consistently, then time is not your solution. Hearing protection like noise-canceling headsets will be your solution because they will lower the level of decibels your eardrum is registering. This solution then lowers the chances of NIHL.

Worried you have been exposed to NIHL? Keep reading to learn about the symptoms.

Symptoms of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss:

One of the first and most common symptoms is pain or ringing in the ears; this will sometimes be referred to as tinnitus. Another common symptom, aside from the complete loss of hearing, is distorted or muffled hearing.

These symptoms can be highly dangerous in the workplace; a person experiencing NIDL may miss warning signal sounds. Therefore, finding proper hearing protection is a must for hazardous noise workplaces.

Factors to Consider when Selecting Hearing Protection:

When choosing the best hearing protection for yourself there are quite a few decisions you need to make. Below is a list of questions you can ask yourself before making a purchase:

  • Do I need to wear a hardhat?
  • What noise reduction rating do I need?
  • Does it need to be compatible with a two-way radio I already use?
  • Do I require Bluetooth to use with a smartphone?
  • What is my budget?
  • Do I need analog or digital?
  • Do I require duplex communication?

Products to Choose From:

The Comtac 6 is a great headset for military use. Features like a noise reduction rating of 23 and a noise-canceling speech microphone ensure clear communication and outstanding hearing protection.

  • Comtac 6 (great for military use)
    • Noise Reduction Rating 23
    • Noise-canceling speech microphone
    • 350 hours of battery life
    • VOX hands-free push to talk
    • Comfortable to wear for long periods of time

The 3M Peltor WS ProTac XPI is an ideal headset for manufacturers and/or construction workers. It is hard hat compatible, durable, comes in a high visibility yellow, and more!

  • 3M PELTOR WS ProTac XPI (great for manufacturers or construction workers)
    • Bluetooth abilities
    • Noise-canceling speech microphone
    • Hands-free mic
    • Environmental listening (allows user to hear environmental noises while being protected from harmful exposure)
    • Hard hat compatible
    • Bright yellow to improve visibility
    • Durable

Lastly, if you are looking for something smaller and focused on communication, the collection of headsets from Waveband Communications is a great option. These headsets tend to be useful for racecar drivers.

Noise-induced hearing loss is a common occurrence among many professionals; however, it can be prevented. We hope this article gave you some useful information about the serious impact of a noisy environment and how to protect yourself against long-term consequences.

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