Nothing is as isolating as hearing loss. At home, work and play, hearing loss first takes the color out of experiences; then it takes information, conversation, and relationships.
Has your spouse complained about having to repeat every word?
Then it is time for a hearing assessment. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the number of Americans with hearing loss has doubled. The Hearing Health Foundation says 50 million Americans experience some degree of impairment or tinnitus (nonstop ringing in an ear), and this disability has become a public health epidemic.
The number of people with hearing loss is more than all those living with diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and epilepsy combined. Nearly 125,000 workers have suffered substantial, permanent hearing loss the last decade.
Intense workplace noise levels are too often literally deafening.
Do you experience ringing or buzzing in your ears when you leave work, have difficulty hearing co-workers, verbal instructions, the sound of machinery, or the ability to identify the direction of a sound source? Do you shout at a coworker an arm’s length away and turn your head to listen, because you hear better from one ear than with the other? You’ve probably acquired a noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
To combat ear damage, OSHA has strict requirements for hearing protection in the workplace. In fact, employers are legally required to provide hearing protection to all workers exposed to “time-weighted average (TWA) sound levels at or above 85 decibels (dB) for eight continuous hours per day.” That means long exposure to any loud noise over normal.
Normal noise is conversation (60 dB) and heavy city traffic (85 dB). Motorcycles or a jackhammer test at 95 dB, an MP3 player at 110 dB, a jet takeoff at 120 dB, a fire engine siren at 130 dB, and firecrackers or gunshots at 150 dB.
Exposure to loud noise kills the nerve endings in the inner ear. Increased exposure results in more dead nerve endings. The final result is permanent hearing loss that cannot be corrected by surgery or hearing aids. Hearing loss is pervasive. It is also preventable.
On the job hearing protection comes in two main types. In-ear protection and ear coverings.
Those that are inserted in the ears and those that cover the ears. In-ear plugs can reduce the noise level by 10-15 dB and ear muffs by 20-25 dB, provided they are fitted and worn correctly. And worn all day, every day by employees.
Unfortunately, workers will wear protective goggles, hard hats, welding helmets, face shields, gloves and steel-tipped shoes, but not preventive ear protection. They wait an average of 7 years before seeking help.
Don’t become an NIHL statistic. The more severe the unaided hearing loss, the greater the economic and social consequences.