Essential Tips to Avoid Hearing Damage in Industrial Workplaces

January 3, 2024

In a world where ads for personal injury claims constantly remind us of the dangers of workplace falls, there's a more insidious and often overlooked risk lurking in industrial settings: hearing loss. While falls grab headlines and immediate attention, the gradual and often silent onset of hearing damage can have a profound impact on workers' lives.

A significant number of workers globally are exposed to hazardous levels of noise at their workplaces. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that around 22 million workers are exposed to potentially harmful noise levels yearly. Industries notorious for high noise pollution include construction, farming, and warehouse and distribution, where moving vehicles and machinery generate substantial noise.

In this guide, we delve into practical strategies to protect your ears from the unseen hazards of the industrial environment.

Understanding Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can be a result of continuous exposure to high noise levels or a one-time exposure to an extremely loud sound, such as an explosion. Workers exposed to high noise levels may experience permanent hearing loss and other health issues, including:

  • Isolation due to impaired hearing and communication difficulties
  • Cognitive decline and concentration problems
  • Cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, and heart disease
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Tinnitus, a condition causing a continuous ringing sound in the ears
  • Sleep disorders

It's crucial to understand that NIHL is 100% preventable. However, once the damage occurs, it is irreversible.

What Employers Can Do

Employers in industrial workplaces shoulder a significant legal responsibility to safeguard their workers' hearing. It's not just about providing a safe work environment; it's a mandate. Failing to do so can attract hefty fines and penalties from regulatory bodies like OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). This legal obligation extends beyond mere compliance – it's about ensuring the long-term well-being and productivity of their workforce. In the following sections, we'll explore specific measures and strategies that employers can implement to fulfill this duty effectively.

Leverage Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) Software for Noise Level Assessments

EHS software can help manage workplace audits and inspections to identify risks, including those causing hearing loss, and ensure compliance with OSHA's Occupational Noise Exposure Standard. EHS software can also help store, access, and share comprehensive audit documentation more easily.

Lead Adequate Employee Safety Training

All workers must be adequately trained on best practices for handling their work-associated hazards. This could mean educating workers on how to wear PPE, emergency procedures, or how to report incidents or unsafe actions. EHS software can help reduce the administrative work that comes with training.

Enact a Noise Mitigation Plan

A comprehensive noise mitigation plan is crucial in reducing the impact of noise levels in the workplace. This plan should address all sources and noise levels that can be anticipated throughout the work's lifespan. For instance, a noise mitigation plan for a construction project would include measures like:

  • Planning and layout of the construction site
  • Determining open areas for haul roads
  • Ensuring machinery is well maintained or new to reduce noise
  • Incorporating temporary barriers around noisy machinery
  • Planning schedules to control the rotation of workers exposed to noisy areas

Control Chemical Exposure

Certain chemicals, known as ototoxicants, can damage the ear, leading to hearing loss and increased sensitivity to noise. Employers should ensure that these chemicals are eliminated from the workplace or replaced by safer substitutes. If this isn't possible, control measures like adequate ventilation should be in place.

What Workers Can Do

Workers have a key role in protecting their hearing health. Employers can provide the best safety measures, but it's up to each worker to use them properly. Let’s outline specific actions workers can take to ensure their hearing safety in noisy work environments.

Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Employing hearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as disposable earplugs or earmuffs, can significantly reduce the risk of hearing loss. PPE should be worn when workers are exposed to noise levels of 85 decibels (dBA) or higher. Employers are required to provide PPE to their workers at no cost and train them on its safe use.

Submit to Regular Hearing Tests

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide free audiometric testing to employees exposed to noise levels of 85 dB or higher. This important test should be done within the first six months of an employee's exposure to such noise levels, and then at least annually after that. It's crucial for workers to attend these tests, as they play a vital role in identifying any early signs of hearing loss and ensuring timely interventions.

Report Noise Issues to Management

One of the key actions workers can take to protect their hearing is to be vigilant and proactive in reporting issues. If you, as an employee, notice that the noise levels in your work area are excessively high or if the provided hearing protection gear seems inadequate or is unavailable, it's crucial to report these concerns to your supervisor immediately.

Reporting not only ensures your safety but also helps maintain a safe work environment for everyone. It's important to remember that high noise levels can sometimes go unnoticed or unaddressed until someone speaks up. By alerting your supervisor, you initiate a potentially necessary review and update of safety protocols and equipment.

At Anywhere Audiology, we are dedicated to providing expert hearing care in New York and New Jersey. We understand the significance of maintaining good hearing health, especially for those working in high-noise industrial environments. Contact us today to learn more about our mobile hearing aid services and how we can help you preserve your hearing health.

Written by
Reviewed by
Dr. Emma Durazzo
Owner & Doctor of Audiology
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With years of experience and continued professional training, Emma Durazzo (formerly Emma McCue) has developed her expertise in a variety of subspecialties within the scope of audiology.