Noise-induced hearing loss is an issue that affects many employees in various work sectors. Whether they are performing duties in an industrial job or working in a retail or office environment, it is important for workers to protect themselves from injury and hearing loss.
Employers must also take reasonable actions to protect their workers from harm. This includes reducing the risk of occupational hearing loss. Workers who believe their hearing loss or deafness is the result of their jobs may qualify for workers’ compensation.
Why hearing loss matters
Hearing is a sense that many people take for granted until they are no longer capable of hearing as well as they used to before working. Any kind of hearing loss can affect the ability to understand and communicate with others, which is exceptionally vital in the workplace to help prevent workplace injuries.
Occupational hearing loss is a condition that often develops gradually, though there are circumstances when the onset is immediate and permanent. Many employees are not aware they are in danger of losing their ability to hear until they can no longer communicate effectively with others. Occupational hearing loss is not fatal, nor is it always reversible or temporary.
How to prevent noise-induced hearing loss
Hearing issues that stem from work are preventable. By law, employers must follow OSHA's PEL (permissible exposure limit) guidelines for noise exposure. Noise levels should not exceed 85 decibels per eight-hour shift.
Workers can protect themselves by following all work safety rules. They should review their work policies periodically to ensure their compliance. They should also wear protective hearing equipment to minimize their exposure to excessive noise levels. Ear plugs can help dampen sounds and protect the eardrum from injury. Depending on the work environment, workers may need to wear additional safety gear on their ears.
Signs to look for
Workers should monitor themselves for signs of potential hearing issues, such as buzzing and ringing in the ears (tinnitus), an inability to hear sounds or the need to shout to hear what is said. Employees should have their ears tested every year to rule out hearing loss or deafness and to facilitate early diagnosis, treatment and a better outcome.