Hearing loss is typically a gradual process, and by the time its effects are noticeable, it is often too late to do anything about it. Hearing loss is more common than most people realize, according to the CDC, an average of 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to dangerous levels of noise in the workplace annually. Hearing loss can be caused by several different factors (age, illness, etc.), however, the most common of these is noise-induced hearing loss, especially among older adults.
What Causes Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
Noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL is hearing loss that results from damage to the nerve fibers/structures of the inner ear that respond to sound. This damage occurs when the ears are exposed to excessively loud sounds that cannot be surgically corrected, resulting in permanent hearing loss. NIHL can result from a one-time exposure to a loud sound blast or impulse, or from consistent exposure to loud sounds over an extended period. Exposure to any sounds at or above 85 dB(A) can cause NIHL, and the louder the noise, the shorter time it takes for NIHL to occur.
Top 7 Industrial Occupations that Damage Hearing
There are several occupations in which noise levels exceed 85 dB(A) on a regular basis which can lead to NIHL. The following seven occupations are some of the ones with the loudest noise exposures:
- Whether it be aircraft maintenance workers, baggage handlers, or airline ground control, airline employees work in one of the loudest professions in the world, as jet engines emit sound at approximately 140 dB(A), with some jets even hitting noise levels as high as 190 dB(A). Furthermore, even though the flight crew is inside the plane, they can experience up to 130 dB(A) of noise during each take-off. However, they typically experience daily levels of 85 dB(A).
- Construction workers are exposed to loud noises from a variety of sources. Between bulldozers, jackhammers, trucks backing up, and other equipment, noise levels can reach as high as 120 dB(A). Howard Leight’s HearForever initiative found that construction workers in the state of Washington were exposed to noises higher than 85 dB(A) 70% of the time on the job, making these workers easily susceptible to hearing loss.
- Similar to construction workers, miners experience high levels of noise from equipment such as jackhammers, as well as larger and louder machines such as drill machines and haul trucks.
- With many industrial machines running at 70 dB(A), carpenters are constantly exposed to loud noises in tight quarters. Nail guns create 110-130 dB(A) of noise depending on how small of a space they are being operated in. This loud noise exposure is slowly chipping away at a carpenter’s hearing, the more they are exposed over time.
Lumberjacks and Loggers
- Chainsaws run at an ear-splitting 91-110 dB(A), leading to potentially damaged hearing. The thicker the tree to cut down, the larger (and louder) the chainsaw needed. The loud noises associated with the tasks that forestry workers perform, such as moving logs (92 dBA) and using chainsaws are some of the highest noise exposures, averaging 97-102 dB(A).
- Railway workers perform maintenance on trains and tracks, exposing themselves to 75-90 dB(A) consistently, with peak exposures of 130-140 dB(A) when trains pass by. This is significant enough to slowly wear down workers’ hearing over time.
- Workers in many manufacturing environments are constantly exposed to loud noises from extremely loud machinery. Some of the processes in manufacturing that produce loud sounds include glass bottling lines, cutting machinery, milling operations, and the noise produced from wheeled trolleys and racks.
Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented but must be taken seriously and with great care to follow guidelines. The following guidelines are recommended to reduce the risk of NIHL:
- Understand the impacts and dangers of noise-induced hearing loss, as it can lead to communication difficulties, learning difficulties, distorted or muffled hearing, pain or ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and an inability to hear some environmental sounds and warning signals.
- Identify and reduce exposure to the sources of loud sounds in your environment that can contribute to hearing loss (such as gas-powered equipment, heavy industrial equipment, power tools, gunfire, loud music, etc.).
- Adopt behaviors to protect hearing in your environment:
- Avoid or limit exposure to loud sounds
- Move away from sources of loud sounds when possible
- When it is not feasible to avoid exposure to loud sounds, be sure to use approved hearing protection devices (Earmuffs, headsets, earplugs, etc.) to reduce the sound level at the ear to a safe level (Use our hearing protection calculator to guide you in choosing the appropriate level of hearing protection)
- Turn down the volume to a safe level when listening to music or during a conversation on communication devices (Two-way radios, cellphones, etc.)
- Schedule a hearing evaluation by a licensed audiologist or other qualified professional, especially if there is concern about potential hearing loss.
- Create a hearing conservation plan.
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