Hearing loss prevention in the workplace

A large proportion of your life will be spent at your given place of work. Work is an obvious necessity for many of us and can be an extremely rewarding aspect of our lives. However, our place of work can present with certain occupational hazards – a key one being the possible risk to your hearing health that certain jobs/industry sectors can pose.

Research shows that the sectors with the highest recorded prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) include:

  • agriculture
  • forestry
  • fishing
  • mining and quarrying
  • manufacturing
  • construction

Occupational noise is the obvious culprit for workplace-related hearing loss, but there are other risk factors to consider: whole body vibration, work-related diseases, and exposure to toxins can all contribute to deterioration of hearing health.

How to manage occupational hearing loss

Virtually all organizations that work in the aforementioned sectors should have safeguards in place to protect their employees from workplace-related NIHL.

However, the burden of responsibility also lies on the individual worker to ensure that their workplace, and indeed their own actions and behaviours, are conducive to protecting their hearing while at work.

Being aware of hazardous noise exposure

Sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). Exposure to levels of noises around or in excess of 85dB can eventually lead to NIHL. The higher the dB the lower the time of exposure required to do long-lasting harm to your hearing.

Speaking to your safety manager, if you are concerned by the level of noise in your place of work, is a great first step. They will be able to effectively measure the current level of noise, gauge whether it is or isn’t below the 85dB threshold, and make changes if and when necessary to support hearing health and safety.

A good cue for gauging whether noise levels are too high is to simply monitor if you have to raise your voice significantly when speaking to someone at around an arm’s length away. If you do, then noise levels may be potentially damaging. Modern technology can also come in handy, too. Phone applications can also measure noise levels and are a handy tool for self-monitoring your own environment and its level of safety.

Reducing your personal exposure to noise

As mentioned, personal responsibility has to factor in when protecting your hearing. Your organization can provide all the safeguards they can but ultimately you have to monitor your own health and environment. Here are a few things you can do to protect your hearing while at work:

  • Taking a break from noisy activity
  • Wearing soundproofing equipment provided
  • Minimize noise from the source – ensure equipment is properly maintained and the quietest equipment is used
  • Reduce your time of exposure to noisy environments
  • Increase the distance between you and the source of the noise

Other environmental hazards to be aware

Preventing hearing loss in the workplace goes beyond your exposure to noise. Employees should also take care to:

  • Minimize their exposure to ototoxic (toxic to the ear) chemicals
  • Wear the correct protection when working with these chemicals
  • Minimize your exposure to using equipment and or being in environments which cause whole-body vibration (being mindful that the more aggressive the vibration the more potentially harmful it could be to your hearing)

Addressing hearing loss

If you begin to notice that you or a work colleague begin to experience (or have been experiencing) the symptoms of hearing loss there is a multitude of methods of treating hearing loss at your disposal.

Speak to a licensed hearing professional to talk through the symptoms you or another are experiencing to better understand what the best route of treatment will be and how you can further protect yourself in the future.

With you on your journey to better hearing.

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