Every day we experience sound in our environment. These can be sounds from television and radio, household appliances and traffic. Normally, these sounds are at safe levels that don't damage our hearing.
However, sounds can be harmful when they are too loud, even for a brief time, or when they are both loud and long-lasting. These sounds can damage sensitive structures in the inner ear and cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
An estimated 1.3bn people worldwide suffer from NIHL due to noise exposure through work or leisure activities.
What is noise-induced hearing loss?
Industrial hearing loss from excessive noise at work remains the occupational disease with the highest number of civil claims. This accounts for about 75% of all occupational disease claims.
NIHL can be immediate, or it can take a long time to be noticeable. It can be temporary or permanent, affecting one or both ears. Even if you can't tell that you are damaging your hearing, you could have trouble hearing in the future, such as not being able to understand other people when they talk, especially on the phone or in a noisy room.
Regardless of how it might affect you, one thing is certain: noise-induced hearing loss is something you can prevent.
Which jobs carry the most risk of hearing loss?
The jobs that present the greatest risk of noise at work include:
1. Airport ground staff - 140 dB
You might have noticed their brightly coloured ear muffs. When you're directing landing jet engines, it's a very necessary piece of safety equipment.
2. Formula One driver - 135 dB
Drivers in the cockpit who are right in front of the engine deal with noise levels reaching as high as 135 dB.
3. Construction worker - 120 dB
Construction workers are exposed to noise all day long, using tools which can register an ear-shattering 120 dB.
4. Nightclub staff - 115 dB
Bouncers stand outside a club and are safe from too much noise, but workers at the bar working long shifts can be subjected to noise levels of up to 155 dB.
5. Rock musicians - 110 dB
Musicians such as Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas, Pete Townsend, and KT Tunstall have all admitted they suffer from tinnitus.
6. Factory workers - 105 dB
People who work with loud machinery often suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus. Farm workers also have to deal with excessive animal noise.
7. Commuter music - 100 dB
Listening to loud music with headphones on while commuting to work can be hazardous to hearing.
8. Classical musician - 95 dB
Studies have shown that classical musicians are exposed to noise levels during performances and rehearsals of up to 90 dB.
9. Motorcycle courier - 90 dB
Riding a motorcycle at 50 mph exposes the driver's ears to 90 dB of noise under the helmet.
10. Teacher - 85 dB
Nursery workers and teachers suffer the effects of excessive noise, which with continued and prolonged exposure, can cause damage to the eardrum.
Some tips to prevent noise-induced hearing loss
1. Be vigilant
Know when you are most at risk where you work. As a general rule, noise levels should not exceed 85 dB, but the level of exposure also depends on other factors - such as duration. Watch out for high-risk tasks (such as metalwork, hammering or using noisy equipment) or high-risk areas (posters and signs will warn you).
2. Wear any ear protection provided by your employer
Wear or use any personal protective equipment (such as ear defenders, plugs or headphones) to limit your exposure. Make sure it fits you properly and is correctly adjusted, so you're adequately protected.
3. Never remove any absorbent materials
Screens, barriers and silencers are designed to protect your hearing. Refrain from removing any of these items once they are in place.
4. Limit your exposure to noise
If you don't need to be the noise centre, ensure you are as far away from the noise source as possible. For example, by working in other locations when noisy work is undertaken.
5. Talk to your manager if you are concerned
They may be able to arrange extra protection or health screening to limit and/or monitor your exposure.
6. Attend any hearing test arranged by your employer
Health screenings are vital to monitor your ongoing exposure to noise, so make sure you cooperate fully.
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