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The Surprising Statistics Behind Occupational Hearing Loss

It’s popular to think of hearing loss as an inescapable problem linked with aging, or, more recently, as a consequence of the younger generation’s constant use of iPods. But the numbers reveal that the larger problem may be exposure to loud noise at work.

In the United States, 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise, and an approximated 242 million dollars is devoted each year 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 progressively noisier occupations, suggesting that exposure to sounds above a certain level progressively enhances your risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss later in life.

How loud is too loud?

A study performed by Audicus discovered that, of those who were not subjected to work-related noise levels over 90 decibels, only 9 percent struggled with noise-induced hearing loss at age 50. In comparison, construction workers, who are regularly exposed to sound levels as high as 120 decibels, struggled with noise-induced hearing loss at the age of 50 at a rate of 60 percent!

It seems that 85-90 decibels is the ceiling for safe sound levels, but that’s not the complete story: the decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear. That signifies that as you increase the decibel level by 3 decibels, the sound level just about 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 hardly perceptible, regular conversation is about 60 decibels, the threshold for safety is 85-90 decibels, and the death of hearing cells starts 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 increasingly louder decibel levels have steadily higher rates of hearing loss.

Hearing loss by occupation

As the following table demonstrates, as the decibel levels connected with each occupation 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%
Manufacturing 105 decibels 30%
Farming 105 decibels 36%
Construction 120 decibels 60%

Any occupation with decibel levels above 90 places its workforce 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 each case, as the decibel level rises, the risk of noise-induced hearing loss rises with it.

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 exposed to unsafe noise levels, but that only 44 percent reported to use hearing protection accessories on a every day basis. Factory workers, on the other hand, tend to stick to to stricter hearing protection regulations, which may explain why the incidence rate of hearing loss is slightly lower in manufacturing than it is in farming, despite subjection to similar decibel volumes.

All of the data point to one thing: the significance of protecting your hearing. If you work in a risky job, you need to take the right preventive steps. If avoiding the noise is not an option, you need to find ways to minimize the noise levels (best attained with custom earplugs), in addition to assuring that you take frequent rest breaks for your ears. Controlling both the sound volume and exposure time will decrease your chances of acquiring noise-induced hearing loss.

If you would like to talk about a hearing protection plan for your unique circumstances or job, give us a call. As hearing specialists, we can provide tailor-made solutions to best protect 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).

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 16th, 2015 at 9:19 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.