Industrial hearing loss is a type of workplace-related injury that unfortunately does not receive the attention it should. The impact of hearing loss on quality of life is often overlooked. The reason for this unfortunately is that it is an invisible injury. The fact is any type of hearing disability can be extremely distressing and can impact an individual’s life in many ways.
Causes & Forms of Industrial Hearing Loss
Industrial hearing loss is also known as noise-induced hearing loss. Its primary cause is exposure to high levels of noise in the workplace. This could be exposure to continuous sound at high decibels or even one loud noise from very close proximity.
Noise-induced hearing loss can take four main forms:
Tinnitus manifests as a continuous ringing, buzzing, clicking, or whistling sound in one or both ears. It can be temporary or chronic and persistent.
Constant or repetitive loud noises in close proximity to the ear can cause acoustic trauma. The damage can range from muffled hearing to perforated eardrums.
Exposure to high levels of noise over an extended period of time can cause temporary partial or complete deafness. The hearing may be restored partially or completely if the worker gets sufficient time away to rest and recover.
Permanent deafness usually occurs over a period of time from continual exposure to high-level noises without adequate protection. Under these circumstances, hearing deteriorates slowly. Without timely corrective action, the hearing loss becomes permanent.
Although exposure to high noise levels can damage your hearing no matter where you work, workers employed in certain industries are at higher risk of industrial hearing loss.
Industries At High Risk For Industrial Hearing Loss
No occupation can be considered 100% risk-free when it comes to hearing loss. There are certain industries however that increase the risk factor tremendously. Without the appropriate protection against noise-induced hearing loss, your hearing could be at risk if you are employed in any of these industries:
A variety of high-powered machinery and heavy vehicles are used routinely on construction sites during different phases of construction, from excavation machines, dumper trucks, and cement mixers, to electrical drills, saws, and many more. All of these emit high levels of noise on their own. The cumulative effect of these noises can literally be deafening. It’s not surprising that workers employed in the construction industry are at the highest risk for industrial deafness.
Manufacturing plants are notoriously noisy with the combined noises of several loud machines all operating at the same time. The enclosed space of the factory floor amplifies these sounds, resulting in noise levels that can be far above the recommended safety limits. What makes manufacturing floors even more dangerous is that workers can get accustomed to the consistent noise that goes on in the background non-stop. Under these circumstances, hearing loss can progress gradually and most workers do not realise it until it is too late.
For nightclub patrons, loud thumping music often at levels reaching 100 dB and higher is the highlight of the evening out. While this may do minimum hearing damage to the revellers themselves, the staff who are exposed to the turned-up music night after night are at high risk for hearing loss. Tinnitus, acoustic trauma, and temporary or permanent deafness are common among DJs, bar staff, musicians, bouncers, and other security personnel. Although many nightclubs are aware of the maximum volume allowed, it isn’t unknown for them to flout these limits in the pursuit of popularity.
Acoustic trauma is among the most common service-related disability among military veterans. Ear-splitting explosions and gunfire, and the roar of aircraft engines all in close proximity to military personnel on the field can wreak havoc on their hearing.
From underground mining equipment to above-ground dragline excavators, almost all heavy machinery used in the mining industry emits loud noises that are well over the recommended safety decibel limit, putting workers at very high risk for hearing damage.
You would hardly imagine that the agriculture or farming industry would make it on this list. The fact is, workers in these two industries are routinely exposed to several different sources of noise, from combine harvesters and chainsaws to shredders, cutters, and wood chippers. Exposure to even a single source over extended periods of time can damage workers’ hearing. Exposure to multiple sources of loud noise can cause permanent damage.
Early Signs Of Hearing Loss
If ignored, hearing loss can and will progress. It cannot be restored after it has progressed beyond a certain point. Recognising the symptoms of hearing loss is crucial in stopping it from getting worse.
Early signs of hearing loss can include:
- Needing to turn up the volume on the television or radio in order to hear.
- Struggling to hear what somebody else is saying or missing parts of the conversation and asking them to repeat themselves.
- Muffled hearing as if something is covering your ears.
- Consistent, buzzing, hissing, or ringing sounds in the ears.
- Not hearing the doorbells or phone calls.
These symptoms may be seen in only one ear or both ears.
What Employers & You Can Do To Prevent Industrial Hearing Loss
Hearing loss due to noise exposure is largely preventable by observing safety guidelines and putting safety measures in place. Towards this end, employers can protect their workers by:
- Using the quietest appropriate equipment to perform the job.
- Control the level of noise by fitting machines with noise-reduction devices such as a noise dampener or silencer.
- Change the layout of the workplace to reduce the amplified collective sounds from noisy machines placed in close proximity to each other.
- Provide workers with adequate training with an emphasis on safety measures.
- Provide workers with appropriate hearing protection in the form of earmuffs, earplugs, or semi-inserts.
- Send workers for regular hearing tests so remedial action can start before the hearing loss is permanent.
Regardless of the industry you work in, you must take steps to protect your hearing. This is even more important if you work in an industry that’s a high risk of causing hearing damage.
- Make sure you wear the ear protection that your employer provides and heed all safety guidelines.
- Look after your protective device so that it continues to work efficiently and protect your hearing. If it does not fit properly or it is worn out, bring it to the notice of your supervisor or safety representative, and get a replacement right away.
If, despite all precautions, you experience any sign of hearing difficulties, seek medical advice as soon as possible to prevent any further hearing loss. If you believe your employer is responsible for your hearing loss you may also want to read our advice on industrial deafness compensation claims.