Have you ever wondered what the loudest work environment is? According to a 2018 study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting industries are among the most hazardous for high noise and hearing loss, with the Forestry and Logging industry as the most pervasive. Workers exposed to high noise in the Forestry and Logging industry have “a higher percentage of hearing loss (21%) than all other noise-exposed industries combined (19%)” (CDC, 2018).

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The ways in which workers communicate in different industries have drastically changed in the past year. Specifically, the food processing industry has made major changes in its communication abilities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As more industries were shutting down due to stay-at-home orders, the food processing companies were still in full swing, being an essential and critical industry.

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When it comes to hearing protection for loud workplaces, business owners want to save money and purchase the cheapest option available to them. This cheaper option often comes in the form of disposable earplugs, regardless of the environmental concerns that are often associated with them. They purchase these disposable earplugs because they seem to be the most cost-effective hearing protection solution, but what if they are wrong? What if we were to say that in the long run, disposable earplugs cost hundreds of dollars more than investing in more permanent forms of hearing protection. Not only would the alternative save business owners in monetary costs, but also in productivity, employee safety, and overall business success. Let me explain how.

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Hearing conservation programs are typically designed to protect workers with normal hearing, but they must also consider those workers that have already been impacted by hearing loss or impairment. Many workers in high-noise environments have already experienced varying degrees of hearing loss and may have special needs. What can be done to keep them protected, but still allow them to continue with their daily activities? These workers face numerous challenges, even in quiet environments, including difficulty communicating with colleagues and problems differentiating important sounds or alarms from other background noises. Some workers may even face differing levels of tinnitus or ringing in the ears.

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Noise in the modern workplace is a well-known hazard with firm laws and guidelines in the United States, Australia and many other countries throughout the world to ensure employees have some degree of protection.

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In today’s hectic world of work, it can be difficult to catch a minute of peace. People with labor-intensive jobs that are based outdoors are particularly vulnerable to the detrimental effects of loud noises and often feel the need to escape the sound of heavy machinery. However, manual laborers are not the only workers feeling the effects of excessive noise. With open offices plans now the norm in most workplaces, the sounds of chatter and movement that take place every day can have a number of detrimental effects on productivity and employee wellbeing.

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Project managers on construction and manufacturing jobsites face a number of challenges. They are under constant pressure to meet timetables, prevent cost overruns and avoid hazards and liabilities. They are often too concerned about these issues to worry much about noise. Unfortunately, high levels of noise on a jobsite can be very costly. Project managers must understand the risks and take appropriate precautions.

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Can workers protect their hearing and stay alert to workplace hazards? Yes, they can, with the proper hearing protection equipment, safety training and situational-awareness.

Pilots, soldiers, and police officers know how important situational awareness is to their survival on the job. But from a general health and safety perspective, it has a more universal application One Occupational Safety online piece describes it this way:

"(S)ituational awareness means being aware of the surrounding conditions in your immediate work area and recognizing and dealing with unsafe work conditions before they become an issue…"

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