Dangerous noise levels in the workplace can lead to permanent hearing loss. Illinois workers in a range of industries are around loud equipment and tools for several hours every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 22 million workers (14%) are exposed to hazardous noise each year. About 12% of all American workers suffer from some form of hearing impairment.
What Is Occupational Hearing Loss?
Occupational hearing loss is a full or partial reduction of workers’ hearing caused by work-related noise exposure. Loud noise kills nerve endings in the inner ear. This damage cannot be reversed using medicine or surgical intervention. As a result, workers’ ability to understand speech and hear high-frequency sounds may be impaired or completely lost. Depending on the source and intensity of the noise, as well as the duration and frequency of exposure, occupational hearing loss may come on suddenly or gradually. In some cases, workers who suffer occupational hearing loss may also experience tinnitus or a ringing or noise in the ear.
What Causes Occupational Hearing Loss?
Exposure to repeated loud noise over time, or to a sudden loud noise, on the job causes occupational hearing loss. Loud noises may cause vibrations so intense they damage the inner ear. For example, a jackhammer may expose workers approximately three feet away to sounds of at least 120 decibels or a jet engine may expose workers as far as 100 feet away to sounds of 130 decibels. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers of workers exposed to an average of 85 decibels over eight working hours to implement hearing conservation programs.
Who Is at Risk?
All jobs that expose workers to high noise levels put their employees at risk for occupational hearing loss, but the danger is greater for those in certain professions. Due to the nature of their work, the tools they use, and other factors, those who work in construction or on farms may be more likely to develop occupational hearing loss. Military service members working in jobs that involve aircraft noise, combat, or other loud noise activities have an increased risk for work-related hearing loss. Workers in jobs that involve loud machinery or music may also be more likely to suffer damage to their inner ears that results in a loss of hearing.