How to prevent hearing loss in the workplace

Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the leading work-related conditions and affects millions of people around the world. People who work with heavy machinery, in loud sound environments and noisy factories for example are commonly affected.

According to “Public Health Burden of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss” a report published by the CDC, over 10 million people suffer from noise-induced hearing damage. It’s become a public health concern and the statistics are only expected to rise.

Sound levels that are almost or more than 85 decibels or dbA, especially in enclosed spaces where sound can’t travel and for long periods of time, are considered dangerous and too much noise for individuals to withstand without hearing damage.

With the employer identifying the best protective measures and the employee taking the steps necessary, hearing loss can be prevented in the workplace.

How is hearing loss in the workplace caused?

When there are consistently excessive and loud noises, it can damage the hair cells in our inner ear. The hair cells are very important when it comes to hearing because they communicate with our brain to detect sounds.

Eventually, these cells may suffer from extensive damage and die off. The more cells that are damaged beyond repair, the more severe the hearing loss.

Tips to prevent hearing loss in the workplace:

1. Use Hearing Protection Devices (HPD)

When the sound or noise level is around or greater than the occupational exposure limits (often 85dBA), hearing protectors are essential for hearing health.

The correct type of HPD varies, but properly fitted earplugs or earmuffs are most commonly used and work well when limiting exposure and muting noise.

2. Safety Controls to protect workers from hearing loss

In situations where certain hazards can be replaced with a safer alternative, it’s recommended to take that precaution and use quieter equipment where possible. If not, use engineering controls to reduce the noise risk.

Physically modifying the workspace, equipment and processes can put the worker in control of the noise and also reduce their risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

It may mean changing the work process to limit loud machinery use, servicing a machine for quieter operation or using sound barriers and making better use of space to limit noise.

It all helps prevent hearing loss for workers and won’t negatively affect their quality of life.

3. Shift Rotations

Implementing shift rotation is a great way to limit the amount of noise a person is exposed to daily and is crucial to hearing protection.

For example, rotating schedules and reduced shift lengths provide additional protection workers need for their hearing health.

4. Education on preventing hearing loss

Workers should be receiving regular training with instructions about the best practices on how to prevent hearing loss, how to use HPDs, how to diagnose the early signs and symptoms of hearing loss and further prevention information.

There should also be warning signs wherever the noise is greater than 85dBA informing workers of the hazard and need for hearing protection.

5. Conducting hearing tests

Annual hearing tests are essential to preventing noise-induced hearing loss for employees who work in a noisy environment.

The tests can give the employer a better understanding of dangers in the workplace, how to help prevent hearing loss and how to improve prevention programs and safety measures.

However, employees can detect early signs of hearing loss caused in the workplace, any changes in their hearing ability can be managed and solutions can be provided when necessary.

Does WorkSafe BC cover hearing loss in the workplace?

If you or an employee has noise-induced hearing loss from their work environment, you or they are eligible to claim workers’ compensation as long as it’s caused by exposure to noise at work.

For a claim to be accepted by WSB:

  • Must have a medical diagnosis of hearing loss due to noise
  • Work must have involved work exposure to noise levels averaged above 85 dBA for 8 or more hours per day for at least two years
  • There must be no evidence of your hearing loss relating to other causes

WSB also offers compensation for other cases as each situation is unique, but those suffering from noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace can receive support from WSB.

Finding a trained practitioner who can help you navigate the tricky situation of protecting your own hearing or your employee’s hearing while working in a noisy environment is important.

Hearing professionals at NexGen Hearing are dedicated to improving your experience and quality of life by seeking to understand each individual’s unique situation, sound environment and hearing abilities.

With personalized recommendations and hearing services, they can help you learn the best ways to protect yourself or your team members.

To learn more about NexGen Hearing and find a clinic near you, click here.