Hearing Loss in the Workplace

Last update on May, 29, 2018

Occupational hearing loss is one of the most common health issues in the workplace. This should come as no surprise, given that more than 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous levels of noise each year.

How much noise is too much? The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) considers noise levels above 85 decibels (dB) — roughly the sound generated by a forklift — to be potentially harmful, especially when the exposure occurs over an eight-hour shift.

Workers in manufacturing are the most affected by harmful noise levels; this includes industries companies involved with lumber, petroleum, coal, metal, rubber, plastic, paper, printing, machinery, food, furniture, fixtures, textiles and apparel. Other industries with a high incidence of occupational hearing loss are transportation, the military, construction, utilities, agriculture, mining and maintenance.

In addition to hearing loss, high levels of noise can decrease job performance and productivity, especially when tasks are complicated or when multitasking is required. Workplace noise can also make communication more difficult, decrease concentration and coordination, and lead to serious workplace accidents and injuries.

At a personal level, hearing loss is associated with lower earning potential and higher health care costs, and it can add stress to the body and mind. Hearing impairment also increases the risk for other health issues, including diabetes, dementia and depression.

June is National Safety Month

The nonprofit National Safety Council has designated June as National Safety Month, which “focuses on reducing leading causes of injury and death at work, on the road and in our homes and communities.” Click here for more information and support materials.

Because good hearing is so important in the workplace, Amplifon urges you to include hearing loss prevention as a focal point during National Safety Month. There are five critical steps you can take:

  1. Identify and control hazardous noise levels in the workplace on a regular basis. Noisy machinery can be retrofitted, redesigned, enclosed, isolated or moved away from workers. Keeping up on the maintenance of machinery also helps.

  2. Make hearing loss prevention and education available in the workplace. Employees should be fitted with hearing protection and trained on its correct use and care. Noise-hazard zones should have proper signage with extra ear protection available. Reduce exposure by limiting employee shifts.

  3. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends an exposure limit of 85 dB over eight hours. Noise exposure at or above this level is considered hazardous to hearing and mandates a hearing conservation program provided by the employer.

  4. Employees should practice safe hearing by always wearing hearing protection in designated areas. They may also use break time to find a quiet spot and give their ears a rest.

  5. Regular hearing checks every two years are important to establish a baseline and as part of an employee’s overall health profile. It also enables hearing loss to be identified and treated in its early stages.

Finally, be aware that when occupational hearing loss does occur, it typically requires intervention through a workers’ compensation program. Click here to download a complimentary white paper, “A Guide to Choosing the Right Hearing Healthcare Program for Workers’ Compensation Claimants,” which includes eight critical benchmarks for evaluating potential partners.

A senior woman wearing a hearing aid on her left ear looking at something on her smartphone
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