According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hearing loss is the most common workplace-related injury in the United States. The federal agency says that more than 22 million Americans are exposed to too much noise in their work environments, which has resulted in $242 million worth of workers’ comp claims.
Bill Murphy of the Hearing Loss Prevention Team for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said, “To make a workplace safer for employees’ hearing, management can conduct a comprehensive noise survey to identify the primary noise sources. Once the noise sources are identified, they can determine which process or source needs the most attention.”
In an effort to lower noise levels at work, many companies will conduct audiometric testing to find problematic noise sources. In addition to removing the source of the noise, making adjustments to the hours that workers are exposed to noise, as well providing employees with hearing protection, can lower noise levels for workers.
Murphy said, “The auditory system is different from other parts of the body…To prevent re-injury, hearing tests can allow one to make a distinction between permanent and temporary hearing loss, also known as a threshold shift. You may have had the experience of temporary hearing loss from attending a sporting event, concert, or experienced a brief high intensity sound that left your ears ringing or stuffed up.” According to Murphy, this intensity can be associated with hearing loss. When sensory cells inside the ear are overworked due to loud noise exposure, they can become damaged.
Murphy said that if you want to prevent re-injury, “the same approach should be applied that would have prevented the injury in the first place. Walk away, turn it down, and wear hearing protection.”
Hearing Loss Injuries Vary
Hearing-related injuries vary, depending on the person and the environment in which they work. For example, in the construction and mining industries, hearing loss has increased so much that one in four workers can be expected to suffer hearing impairment. When it comes to other industrial sectors, hearing loss can be expected in one out of five workers. In the agriculture, forestry fishing, and hunting sector, hearing loss among workers has fallen to around 15%.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggest that workers who are exposed to a time-weighted average of 85 decibels with a 3 dB exchange rate should be enrolled in a Hearing Conservation Program. Examples of devices and vehicles that produce 85 decibels include snow blowers, diesel trucks, and motorcycles.
OSHA requires that employees who works in a high-noise environment have their hearing tested once a year. Helene Freed, representative for Industrial Hearing, a company that performs audiometric testing, says, “We look to see if their hearing got worse from year-to-year. If there’s an injury, it has to be reported to OSHA.”
Freed said that some companies are excused from the testing, including offshore oil and gas companies.
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