CDC: More than 22M People Are Exposed to Noise Risks at Work

Phil Yacuboski

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Hearing loss is America’s most common workplace-related injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 22 million Americans are exposed to too much noise on the job, according to the federal agency, resulting in $242 million on workers’ comp claims.

“To make a workplace safer for employees’ hearing, management can conduct a comprehensive noise survey to identify the primary noise sources,” said Bill Murphy, Hearing Loss Prevention Team, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “Once the noise sources are identified, they can determine which process or source needs the most attention.”

Audiometric testing, as it is known, is done by many companies in an effort to lower the noise levels. Murphy said a few things can be done in addition to removing what is making the noise including engineering noise control, adjusting the time workers are exposed to the noise and providing hearing protection.

“The auditory system is different from other parts of the body,” Murphy said. “To prevent re-injury, hearing tests can allow one to make a distinction between permanent and temporary hearing loss, also known as a threshold shift. You may have had the experience of temporary hearing loss from attending a sporting event, concert, or experienced a brief high intensity sound that left your ears ringing or stuffed up.”

He said that can often be associated with hearing loss. If sensory cells within the inner ear have been overworked they can be damaged due to loud noise exposure

“To prevent re-injury the same approach should be applied that would have prevented the injury in the first place,” Murphy said. “Walk away, turn it down, and wear hearing protection.”

He noted several publications available to employers.

Hearing-related injuries vary by injury, he said.

“In the construction and mining sectors, the prevalence of hearing loss has increased to about one in four workers who might be expected to suffer hearing impairment,” he said. “In most of the other industrial sectors, the prevalence has remained relatively constant at one in five workers. In the agriculture, forestry fishing and hunting sector and in the transportation warehousing and utilities sectors, the prevalence has fallen to about 15 percent.”

Murphy said NIOSH recommends that workers who are exposed to a time-weighted average of 85 decibels with a 3 dB exchange rate should be included in a Hearing Conservation Program.

A snow blower, diesel truck and motorcycle at a 25 feet distance are all examples of 85 decibels.

“Safety glasses are designed to protect your eyes whenever there is a potential of flying debris that could injure the eye; similarly, hearing protection is designed to protect the ear against loud noises,” he said.

Hearing testing is done once per year if you have a high-noise environment, like OSHA requires.

“We look to see if their hearing got worse from year-to-year,” said Helene Freed, with Industrial Hearing, a company that performs audiometric testing. “If there’s an injury, it has to be reported to OSHA.”

Freed said in some cases, hearing protections are tailored to the business. She explained Ben and Jerry’s ice cream uses hearing inserts that are corded.

“They don’t want anything to end up in the ice cream,” she said. Freed said they do testing for the Vermont ice cream maker. “But if you work with big saws, you don’t want a cord because that could be dangerous.”

Freed said her company arrives in a mobile rig and can do soundproof testing for up to eight employees at a time, every 20 minutes.

Some companies are excused from the testing, according to Freed, including offshore oil and gas. She also said some industries have lesser burdens than others.