Hearing protection in the workplace is an essential piece of occupational safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with preserving the health and wellbeing of employees, particularly those who do not have labor unions or other collective advocates to protect their safety. At many large employers, including factories, industrial facilities, and corporations, OSHA is aware of the needs of these employees and can send a representative to make sure that safety procedures are being followed. This vigilance is an important piece of making sure that individuals are not being treated unsafely in the workplace. However, small businesses and workplaces that are off the radar of OSHA can be subject to higher risks. Without a designated official checking on safety measures, some of these employees might not be getting the protection they need. These principles apply to hearing protection just as they do to other aspects of workplace safety. Let’s take a moment to think about the risks of hearing damage in the workplace, as well as what you can do to protect your hearing while on the job. The occupations that carry a risk of hearing damage might surprise you.
Hearing Damage at Work
As with all other dimensions of workplace safety, employers are responsible for protecting their workers. Just as you wouldn’t take part in an activity at work that would risk your life or wellbeing, you should not be put in a position to risk your hearing ability at work either. Noise-induced hearing loss is caused by a combination of two factors: volume and duration. A single, very loud blast above 110 decibels can cause hearing damage in an instant, so hearing protection is required in jobs that might expose workers to explosions, gunshots, or other sudden noisy events.
However, damage is not only caused by these isolated incidents of obviously loud sound. A lower volume of noise, when endured for an extended period of time, can also cause damage. The general guideline established by OSHA is that 85 decibels of sound can be endured for a full 8 hour shift without causing hearing damage. However, for each three decibels added to that level, the duration of exposure is cut in half. For instance, 88 decibels of sound can only be endured for 4 hours without a risk of damage.
As you can see, louder sounds can only be endured for very short periods of time, and some occupations that expose employees to these sounds might surprise you. Restaurants, bars, and sporting venues are all common places where these sounds can be produced. Particularly, there are small businesses that send their wait staff or bartenders into a room of people loudly talking while there is music or a sports game playing in the background. These employers are required by law to mandate hearing protection for their employees, but many of them fly below the radar of OSHA regulation.
Protecting Your Hearing
Each October we celebrate “Protect Your Hearing Month” as a way to remind ourselves how precious and fragile hearing ability is. If you have a sense that your employer might be exposing you to an extended duration of noise in the workplace, now is your opportunity to take hearing protection into your own hands. Though you might want to make your manager or ownership aware of the OSHA standards, you can also take practical steps right away to protect your hearing.
Even wearing basic hearing protection at work is a good place to start, and disposable foam earplugs attenuate noise by at least 10-15 decibels. This amount of protection might be enough to enable you to work an entire shift without risking your hearing. For noisier places of business, more advanced hearing protection is necessary. Custom-fitted ear molds are available to provide more advanced protection that is tailored to the noise level you encounter at work. These earplugs make it possible to communicate while also limiting the damaging noise that threatens your hearing ability.
If you are concerned about workplace hearing safety, take the opportunity to contact our hearing health professionals to learn about your options for hearing protection. All you need to do is make an appointment, and we will guide you through the process toward hearing protection.