Hearing loss, the most common occupational disease in American today, is the second most self-reported occupational illness or injury, state the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Approximately 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise on the job, and an additional nine million are at risk from agents such as solvents and metals.”
The CDC adds that hearing loss may occur after exposure to a single extremely loud noise, or after repeated exposures at lower levels. “Work-related hearing loss is irreversible but entirely preventable.”
Who’s at risk? “Occupational hearing loss can affect all industries and all workers, whether young, old, male, or female. It can reduce the quality of life because of social isolation and unrelenting tinnitus (ringing in the ears). It impairs communication with family members, the public, and co-workers. It may diminish a worker’s ability to monitor the work environment (warning signals, equipment sounds, etc.) and cause lost productivity and increased accidents from impaired communication. And it can lead to expenses for worker’s compensation and hearing aids,” states the CDC.
The CDC adds, “Hearing loss may not appear to be an immediate threat to a worker’s health, but it has no warning signs. By the time a loss in hearing is noticed, it may be too late to do anything about it.”
While occupational hearing loss can’t be cured, it can be prevented through the use of earplugs or earmuffs. The CDC says these aids can significantly reduce the impact of exposure to hazardous levels of noise.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to have a hearing conservation program in place if workers are exposed to loud noises, and to provide hearing protection, information, and training.