Occupational hearing loss is defined as acoustic trauma caused by exposure to intense noise levels. Strong vibrations lead to a structural breakdown inside the cochlea, resulting in a significant loss of nerve stimulation. The damage to the inner ear is usually permanent. Thus, workers in noisy environments should take all the precautions they can to preserve their hearing.
Medical experts agree that constant exposure to noise levels at or greater than 90 decibels will eventually cause damage to the inner ear. Certain occupations carry an extremely high risk for hearing loss. It is important for those who work in these environments to take the necessary precautions.
Below are five occupations at greater risk for hearing loss.
This is probably the trade that most people would associate with high noise levels. Workers in the construction industry are exposed to loud noises emanating from heavy trucks, jack hammers, large electrical motors, and power equipment such as pneumatic nail hammers and electric drills.
A dump truck will produce noises that exceed the 100 decibel level at a distance of 30 feet. Jackhammers are extremely dangerous in terms of the frequency and sound vibration produced, with noise levels exceeding 130 decibels.
Construction companies are always under close scrutiny by labor departments when it comes to worker safety. Requirements such as earmuffs or ear plugs are enforced for good reason.
Airport Maintenance Personnel
Those who work on airport grounds as mechanics, baggage handlers, and aircraft fueling personnel are exposed to very intense noise levels. Jet engines, propellers, electrical actuators, and hydraulic systems all produce noises that are not only high in frequency but also dangerously high in vibration. For example, jet engine will produce sound levels above 130 decibels from a distance of more than 100 feet.
All airport ground personnel should wear protective headgear that is rated at or above this noise level. Certain earplugs are approved for use by individuals working around aircraft hangers or in areas where noise from jets or propeller aircraft can be heard over a great distance.
Machine Shops and Fabrication Facilities
Because most of the work is performed indoors at a manufacturing plant, noise levels are increased due to the confined space and the rebounding effect of sound waves. Woodworking shops are especially dangerous places to work without protective devices for the ears.
Planers, table saws, and industrial sanders can produce some of the highest and most destructive frequencies. The inner ear is not constructed to withstand the destructive vibrations caused by certain interference patterns of high-frequency sound waves.
Military Training and Combat
One of the most common disabilities experienced by those serving in the armed forces is hearing loss. This can be caused by repeated high-decibel noises from automatic weapons fire, intense compression of air molecules from heavy artillery ignition, or from powerful engines on transport vehicles and tanks. Tinnitus is one of the most commonly reported conditions for those serving in the military.
This occupations isn’t usually top of mind when it comes to noises but dental equipment packs a punch. Until recently, not nearly enough attention was being paid to the high-frequency noises produced by specialized dental equipment. High speed drills and cleaning tools can produce noises levels in excess of 90 decibels. The close proximity of the equipment to the dentist means that high frequencies are focused tightly, resulting in very rapid movement of the eardrum.
Inner ear problems can occur when the eardrum focuses high frequencies and passes the energy to the bones of the middle ear. In turn, the middle ear sends rapid pulses of energy to the cochlea. This has a destructive effect on the tissue supporting the hairs of the inner ear.
There are many other occupations at greater risk of hearing loss including longshoreman, truck drivers, musicians, miners, lumberjacks, and processing and factory workers. Regardless of your occupation, if you are exposed to higher decibels of noise, take the necessary precautions to protect your hearing. If you believe has been adversely affected due to an on-the-job injury, contact a workers’ compensation attorney.
This article was contributed on behalf of Nilsson Hearing Center, which offers hearing consultations and St. George, Utah hearing aids in four Southern Utah locations.
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