When you think of a loud workplace, a few sites might come to mind. Perhaps you imagine a clanging factory or a piercing welding station. Others might think of construction sites, where contractors use power tools at high volumes. Although industrial sites and machinery are indeed some of the loudest elements of a workplace, they are not alone in the realm of potential hearing damage. Many other occupations can lead to employee hearing loss, particularly when that exposure lasts for a long time in one shift.
Although workplaces can be dangerous for your hearing ability, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has come up with strict guidelines for employers to protect their workers. Although these regulations are in place does not mean they are always observed. Particularly at small-scale organizations, employers may skirt these regulations. Even more employers do not intend to cause damage to their employees’ hearing ability; they simply do not know it is happening. The following are some ways to tell if you have a potentially damaging workplace and the steps you can take to protect yourself.
How to Detect Hearing Risks in the Workplace
Although these tasks should be the responsibility of employers, it is essential to take responsibility for your hearing into your own hands, as well. Though they may think they are following the guidelines, mismeasurement and neglect can lead to unsafe working environments when it comes to sound and noise.
One of the most effective ways to detect a dangerously loud working environment is to check with your hearing ability immediately after a shift of work. If you hear a constant ringing, particularly in the high frequency range, or if you find that you have trouble hearing immediately following your shift, you may have been exposed to a damaging level of sound. In addition, if you cannot be heard by a coworker who is standing about an arm’s length away, then the environment is probably loud enough to cause damage.
Another technical way to test the damaging potential of a workplace is to measure the decibels of sound at any given time. At any range of decibels, OSHA designates the amount of time you can spend without harming your hearing. For instance, if a sound level is at 85 decibels or lower, you can endure an 8-hour shift without any predictable hearing damage. However, as the volume climbs higher, it is possible to have hearing damage in a shorter and shorter amount of time. If sound is very loud, it can only be endured for a few minutes at a time without the risk of damage. For these reasons, the tasks that are the loudest should be shifted between workers during a day to minimize the risk of damage.
How to Protect Against Hearing Loss in the Workplace
Your employer is responsible for providing you with the right protection and limiting your exposure to very loud sound. However, you can take your own steps to ensure that enough is being done and that you are playing it safe. Taking a measurement of the decibel level in your place of work is as simple as downloading an app and taking note of the volume in your smartphone.
If you find that certain common tasks are very loud, you can take steps to regulate your own time on those jobs, mentioning to management any discrepancy between the time allotted to the task and the volume you experience. Beyond limiting the time of exposure, hearing protection is a very effective way to reduce damage. Simply by wearing disposable foam earplugs, you can reduce the decibel level by several degrees. More serious noise-related tasks might call for noise-cancelling earmuffs.
The loudest tasks will likely require limited times of exposure, as well as earplugs worn beneath noise-cancelling earmuffs. Although this degree of protection can make a great difference for your hearing health, it can also make it impossible to communicate with coworkers. Specialized hearing protection with built-in intercom systems are available for these very risky jobs. Be sure to limit your exposure to loud sound not only in industrial or mechanical work. Other occupations such as hospitality, music-related professions, and hair stylists can use devices that pose a potential threat.
If you have concerns about your hearing, contact us today. We provide comprehensive hearing health services, from hearing testing to hearing aid fittings.