Occupational Hearing Loss

Losing Hearing Because of Your Job

Occupational hearing loss is hearing loss that happens as a result of exposure on the job to high levels of noise or substances that can harm hearing. If an employee is exposed to noise of at least 90 decibels (db), there is a risk of hearing loss being incurred. Tens of millions of people are exposed to situations like this.

Risky Occupations

Some occupations are at greater risk than others for causing hearing loss.

Examples of these occupations include farming, construction, and mining. Musicians are also at risk; Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers works to increase awareness among musicians.

Government Resources

Federal Rules and Regulations

The Federal government regulates occupational noise exposure. The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a General Industry Standard (federal regulations) for occupational noise exposure. Another Department of Labor agency, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, has rules for controlling noise exposure in mines.

Federal Information Sources

Most information and guidance on occupational hearing loss is provided by the Federal government. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offers multiple publications including one on preventing occupational hearing loss, "Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss - A Practical Guide." NIOSH estimates in a fact sheet, "Work-related hearing loss," that nationwide, occupational hearing loss is responsible for hundreds in disability claims.

In addition, the website NoNoise.org has a reprint of an OSHA guide, "Noise Control: A Guide for Workers and Employers," for workers and employers on noise control. This publication gives examples of sources of noise such as vibrating machines, and noise control measures. Further information on occupational hearing loss is found on OSHA's organized topic page Safety and Health Topics: Noise and Hearing Conservation.

Acceptable Workplace Noise Exposure

Some noise can not be avoided in the workplace, so the Federal regulations have rules about how long a person can be exposed to sound at what level. For example, a person can work a full eight-hour day while being exposed to sound at 90 decibels. By the time the noise level rises to 115 db, the allowable time is only 15 minutes. If the level of noise exposure is high enough, OSHA requires workers to be placed in a hearing conservation program.

Related About.com Deafness Articles

About.com Deafness has covered occupational hearing loss through blog posts and articles:

  • Hearing Protection - This article offers similar resources for information on occupational hearing loss and for protecting your hearing.

Sources:

ADAM: Occupational Hearing Loss

Miller, Maurice H. Occupational Hearing Conservation: Where Hearing Professionals Get Down to Business. The Hearing Journal November 1996, Vol 49 No. 11, pp 10-16.

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