The Surprising Statistics Behind Occupational Hearing Loss
It’s popular to think of hearing loss as an unavoidable problem associated with aging, or, more recently, as a consequence of the younger generation’s daily use of iPods. But the numbers reveal that the bigger problem may be direct exposure to loud noise at work.
In the US, 22 million workers are subjected to potentially harmful noise, and an approximated 242 million dollars is spent yearly on worker’s compensation claims for hearing loss, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
What’s more is that higher rates of hearing loss are found in increasingly noisier occupations, indicating that direct exposure to sounds above a certain level progressively raises your risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss later in your life.
How loud is too loud?
A study carried out by Audicus discovered that, of those who were not subjected to occupational noise levels above 90 decibels, only 9 percent struggled with noise-induced hearing loss at age 50. In comparison, construction workers, who are repeatedly exposed to sound levels as high as 120 decibels, suffered from noise-induced hearing loss at the age of 50 at a rate of 60 percent!
It seems that 85-90 decibels is the threshold for safe sound volumes, but that’s not the full story: the decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear. That signifies that as you raise the decibel level by 3 decibels, the sound level roughly doubles. So 160 decibels is not two times as loud as 80—it’s about 26 times louder!
Here’s how it breaks down: a decibel level of 0 is scarcely noticeable, normal conversation is about 60 decibels, the threshold for safety is 85-90 decibels, and the death of hearing tissue takes place at 180 decibels. It’s the region between 85 and 180 that leads to noise-induced hearing loss, and as would be imagined, the professions with progressively louder decibel levels have progressively higher rates of hearing loss.
Hearing loss by occupation
As the following table reveals, as the decibel levels connected with each profession increase, hearing loss rates increase as well:
|Occupation||Decibel level||Incidence rates of hearing loss at age 50|
|No noise exposure||Less than 90 decibels||9%|
Any occupation with decibel levels above 90 places its personnel at risk for hearing loss, and this includes rock musicians (110 dB), nightclub staff (110 dB), Formula One drivers (135 dB), airport ground staff (140 dB), and shooting range marshalls (140 dB). In every instance, as the decibel level rises, the risk of noise-induced hearing loss grows.
Protecting your hearing
A recent US study on the prevalence of hearing loss in farming found that 92 percent of the US farmers surveyed were subjected to hazardous noise levels, but that only 44 percent reported to use hearing protection accessories on a regular basis. Factory workers, in contrast, tend to stick to to more stringent hearing protection regulations, which may explain why the frequency of hearing loss is moderately lower in manufacturing than it is in farming, despite being exposed to near equivalent decibel volumes.
All of the data point to one thing: the significance of protecting your hearing. If you work in a high-risk occupation, you need to take the right preventative steps. If avoiding the noise is not an alternative, you need to find ways to mitigate the noise levels (best achieved with custom earplugs), in addition to making sure that you take regular rest breaks for your ears. Limiting both the sound volume and exposure time will minimize your chances of developing noise-induced hearing loss.
If you would like to talk about a hearing protection plan for your personal situation or job, give us a call. As hearing specialists, we can provide custom-made solutions to best safeguard your hearing at work. We also offer custom earplugs that, in addition to defending your hearing, are comfortable to wear and can maintain the natural quality of sound (as opposed to the muffled sound you hear with foam earplugs).