Protect Your Hearing Month: Ear Protection Safety Tips

ear protection safety tips

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month! It’s an opportunity for businesses to spread awareness to employees on the importance of hearing loss prevention. Whether at work or home, everyone should take action to protect their hearing. In this blog, we’ll be sharing some easy-to-follow hearing safety tips. 

October National Protect Your Hearing Month 

In the U.S., hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition after high blood pressure and arthritis. In the workplace, employees are exposed to occupational noise hazards every day, which makes sense that hearing loss is among the most common work-related complications. 

A worker's hearing may deteriorate over time if exposed to excessively loud noise. Many workers across every industry and sector face the danger of developing work-related hearing loss. 

Loud noises can permanently impair your hearing, and most people aren't aware of the damage until it's too late. Once someone loses their hearing, they will not be able to recover it.

How is the ear damaged by noise?

When sounds are too loud and prolonged, tiny bundles of hair-like structures on top of hair cells in the inner ear are harmed, causing damage to your hearing. The average person’s inner ear contains about 16,000 hair cells at birth. Your brain detects sounds because of these cells. When hair cells are damaged, they cannot respond to sound, resulting in noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Human hair cells don’t grow back and cannot be recovered or replaced, making hearing loss permanent. You might not recognize the early warning signs of hearing loss because NIHL can develop gradually over time. When you notice hearing loss, many hair cells have already been permanently damaged or destroyed.

NIHL can develop at any age. Approximately 40 million adults in the U.S. may develop hearing loss in one or both ears because of noise exposure — sudden or prolonged. Other studies suggest that 13% to 18% of U.S. teens show signs of possible hearing loss from loud noise.

Sound can cause damage if:

  • You have to shout to be heard
  • You have decreased or “muffled” hearing for various hours after exposure
  • The noise makes your ears ring
  • The noise is painful to your ears 

Sound intensity is measured in decibels (dB); the higher the decibel, the more damage it can inflict. To put it into perspective, normal conversations are 60dB, while gunshots and fireworks are 140dB. The louder the sound, the faster it can damage your hearing. For example, everyday noises such as emergency sirens range from 110dB to 129 dB, and just two minutes of 110 dB can damage your hearing. The good news is that NIHL can be avoided. 

How to Protect Your Hearing 

Here are some hearing safety tips to help you protect your hearing against damage before it’s too late. 

  • Avoid loud noises. Noises at or above 85 dB can cause damage. Lower the volume when using headphones or earbuds. 
  • Step away from the noise. If you cannot lower the volume, distance yourself from the source.
  • Wear hearing protectors. Use earplugs or earmuffs when you can’t escape a noisy situation, such as mowing the lawn, using power tools, playing loud music, or attending a concert or sporting event. Activity-specific earplugs and earmuffs are sold online and at hardware and sporting goods stores.
  • Protect others. If children are too young to protect their ears, help them protect their hearing. You should also notify family, friends, and colleagues about noise hazards when you can.
  • Stay protected. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns regarding your hearing. 

When it comes to the workplace, employers are required to reduce noise exposure by implementing the following hierarchy of controls:  

  1. Eliminate dangerous noise exposure. Remove employees from the area or eliminate excessive noise.
  2. Install engineering controls. Add sound barriers, enclosures, and noise-dampening systems to reduce noise.
  3. Implement administrative controls. This includes training on the correct use of hearing protection, job rotation, breaks, and routine maintenance programs.
  4. Supply Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). As the final form of protection, it is crucial to track the levels of noise that remain after applying other techniques. For noises between 85-100 dB on an 8-hour Time-Weighted Average (TWA), earplugs will be enough to protect employees if worn correctly. Noise over 100 dB requires double ear protection from noise (earplugs and earmuffs).

Moreover, employees exposed to noise at or above an 8-hour TWA of 85 dB are required to undergo a baseline audiogram to determine the basis of their present hearing ability under OSHA's Occupational Noise Exposure regulation (29 CFR 1910.95). After obtaining the baseline audiogram, the employer should get a new audiogram for each employee every year.

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Why is hearing loss prevention important?

Most work-related hearing loss is irreversible and can significantly impact the quality of life.

  • When all the sounds we want to hear, such as music or the voice of a loved one, are muffled, and of poor quality, hearing loss can result in a loss of enjoyment.
  • Hearing loss worsens with time, making it challenging to hear and understand others, which might result in isolation.
  • Hearing loss is linked to cognitive decline and heart problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Safety at home and work might be affected by hearing loss.
  • Income usually is lower for workers with hearing loss compared to workers with healthy hearing.
  • Hearing loss is linked to depression. 
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, can interfere with sleep and concentration and is frequently linked to depression and anxiety.

National Protect Your Hearing Month in 2022

As mentioned earlier, one of the most common workplace injuries is occupational hearing loss. Given the volume of noise in a typical industrial facility or warehouse, hearing safety should be taken seriously. However, at home and work, people risk being exposed to potentially harmful noise.

The World Health Organization's (WHO) first World Report on Hearing states that noise is now a serious environmental risk and a public health concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) also goes on to warn that nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide ─ or 1 in 4 people ─ will be living with some degree of hearing loss by 2050, and at least 700 million of these people will require access to ear and hearing care and other rehabilitation services unless action is taken.

Long-term consequences of hearing loss can be devastating and severely impact the quality of life. This danger may be reduced with the correct awareness and safety measures, resulting in healthier, more effective employees.

This October, for National Protect Your Hearing Month, let's work together to raise awareness about noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and the importance of protecting your hearing. 

For more information on protecting your ears from damage and preventing workplace hearing loss, visit The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) webpage.