Protecting your hearing on the job is a must. If you work in a factory or a warehouse, you are no doubt mindful of the many occupational hazards you need to look out for in the workplace. But while you’re probably aware of the dangers of heavy machinery and hazardous chemicals, another serious risk may be right under your nose – or, more correctly, in your ear.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at work each year. The good news is that hearing loss on the job is preventable.
How to Protect your Hearing at Work
How Noisy Is Too Noisy?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established a threshold for damaging noise of 85 decibels. If workers are exposed to an average of 85 decibels or more over 8 working hours, employers are required to take steps to prevent and minimize the risk of hearing loss. To give you an idea of how noisy that is, consider the volume of a hair dryer, blender, lawn mower or a forklift.
How to Tell If Your Job Is Affecting Your Hearing
OSHA warns employees that they may be suffering on-the-job hearing loss if they notice any of the following.
- They need to shout to make themselves heard by someone 3 feet (about an arm’s length) away.
- They hear a ringing or humming when they leave the workplace.
- Worse yet, they can’t hear for some time at the end of the day.
How to Reduce the Risk of Hearing Loss on the Job
OSHA advises employers to use a combination of three measures to protect workers’ hearing. First, they can use engineering controls, like placing noisy machinery behind heavy glass or surrounding it with sound-absorbing materials.
Second, they can implement administrative controls to reduce exposure to excessive noise. For instance, they can put some space between loud equipment and employees. Another approach may be limiting the hours such machinery is used to times when not as many employees are around.
Finally, and most importantly, businesses need to provide their employees with hearing-protective devices like earplugs or earmuffs. This equipment offers the most direct and extensive defense against hazardous noise levels.
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