If you’re like most people in Portland, you probably think hearing loss won’t be a problem until you’re well into your golden years. The truth is, only one-third of adults with a hearing impairment are older than 65. Hearing loss affects people of all ages, and one of the most common culprits in younger people – excessive noise – might be occurring in your workplace.
How Noise Affects Your Hearing
Noise exposure is the biggest cause of hearing loss in younger individuals. Around 15 percent of people aged 20-69 in Portland are diagnosed with hearing loss caused by excessive noise. When decibel (dB) levels exceed 85, the threshold for safe noise exposure, damage to the hair cells of the inner ear can occur. The louder the noise, the less safe exposure time you have; at 85 dB damage can occur after eight hours, but it takes only 15 minutes for irreversible damage to occur when sounds measure 100 dB. And that is a problem in many workplaces.
Protecting Your Ears on the Job
Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common occupational diseases in Oregon and across the country. While it is of particular concern in manufacturing and construction jobs, it can occur in many other places you might not expect. Teachers, musicians, gardeners, farmers and airport ground staff are all frequently exposed to dangerous noise levels on a daily basis.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established guidelines on permissible noise levels in the workplace in an effort to protect workers of all ages from long-term hearing loss. Per OSHA, workers can be exposed to noise levels of 90 dB in an eight-hour day. Employees have additional rights for a safe working environment, including the following:
- Working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm.
- Information and training about workplace hazards, methods of preventing them and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace.
- A review of records for all work-related injuries and illnesses.
- Confidential complaints asking OSHA to inspect the workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard, or if their employer is not following OSHA’s rules.
- The ability to exercise their rights under the law without retaliation, including reporting an injury or raising health and safety concerns with their employer or OSHA.
Even 90 dB at eight hours can be dangerous. To further reduce your risk of developing hearing loss in the workplace, be sure to wear hearing protection if you are exposed to noise on the job. Your employer is required by law to provide proper protection that meets OSHA standards. They should also provide training sessions on hearing safety. Many employers in industries where noise is a concern have adopted onsite hearing conservations programs.
If your workplace is noisy and you’d like more tips on protecting your hearing, your Portland audiologist can help.