If you work in a loud environment, or enjoy listening to music at high volumes, it is important to protect your hearing. Exposure to loud noise can cause hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and other problems. Luckily, there are many different types of ear protection available to help reduce your risk of these issues.
There are two main types of ear protection: passive and active. Passive ear protection, such as earplugs and earmuffs, works by physically blocking out noise. Active ear protection, on the other hand, uses electronics to cancel out noise.
Sometimes, overexposure to loud noise can trigger ringing or other sounds in your ears, called Tinnitus. While tinnitus may be a symptom of damaged hearing, it can also be caused by infections, medications, and earwax.
The only way to know for sure if noise has damaged your hearing is to have a hearing examination by a certified audiometric technician, audiologist, otolaryngologist, or physician.
If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, your hearing may be at risk:
- Do you frequently ask people to repeat sentences?
- Do you feel your hearing is not as good as it was 10 years ago?
- Have family members noticed a problem with your hearing?
- Are you exposed to loud noise without hearing protection where you work?
- Do you have to shout to a co-worker because of the noise around you?
- Are you exposed to noise from firearms, motorcycles, snowmobiles, power tools, or loud music without hearing protection?
Warning Signs of Hazardous Workplace Noise
There are various factors that may indicate noise is a problem in the workplace. While people react differently to noise, subjective responses should not be ignored because they may provide warnings that noise may be at unacceptable levels.
Noisy conditions can make normal conversation difficult. As a general guideline, the work area is too noisy if a worker cannot make himself understood without raising his or her voice while talking to a co-worker 3 feet away. Other clues that it’s too loud include:
- When noise levels are above 80 decibels (dB), people have to speak very loudly.
- When noise levels are between 85 and 90 dB, people have to shout.
- When noise levels are greater than 95 dB, people have to move close together to hear each other at all.
Noise-induced hearing loss can develop rapidly in workers exposed to relatively high noise levels on a daily basis.
When It’s Too Loud in the Workplace
OSHA requires that employees be placed in a hearing conservation program if they are exposed to average noise levels of 85 dB (called the “action level”) or greater during an 8-hour workday. In order to determine if exposures are at or above the action level, it may be necessary to measure or monitor the actual noise levels in the workplace and to estimate the noise exposure or “dose” received by employees during the workday.