Monthly Safety Blast – Occupational Hearing Safety

Did you know that noise-induced hearing loss can be permanent? The CDC defines noise-induced hearing loss as “hearing loss that can result from damage to structures and/or nerve fibers in  the inner ear that respond to sound. This type of hearing loss, termed noise-induced hearing loss, is usually caused by exposure to excessively loud sounds and cannot be medically or surgically  corrected.”

Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by a one-time exposure to an intense “impulse” sound, such as an explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time, such as using farm, logging, or fishing machinery.1

Working in an agriculture, forestry, or fishing can be noisy! Extended exposure to machinery, equipment, and even some animals can lead to hearing loss.

According to a NIOSH article in 2018, “the industries within the AFFH (agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting) sector with the highest number of noise-exposed workers who have hearing loss and an elevated risk of hearing loss include:

  • Forest Nurseries and Gathering of Forest Products (36%)
  • Timber Tract Operations (22%)
  • Fishing (19%)2

It can happen to anyone! Linda Fetzer, an Extension Associate at Penn State, states that “studies suggest that lengthy exposure to farm noise like tractors and machinery can result in noise  induced hearing loss to farmers of all ages, even teenagers.”3

The effects of hearing loss can start small like thinking someone is mumbling when they are talking normally. As it progresses, it can worsen and words may not be heard well or at all.

However, noise-induced hearing loss can affect more than just your hearing. Hearing loss can lead to losing a general sense of awareness that ultimately compromises safety and puts a worker in potential danger. Imagine not hearing someone yell “watch out!” before it is too late.

Besides safety, hearing loss can also affect one’s mental health. According to NIOSH researcher Dr. Elizabeth Masterson, “hearing loss is strongly associated with depression. Depressed people  are also less likely to participate in activities with others, so the effects of hearing loss and depression compound and intensify isolation. Hearing loss is also associated with cognitive decline,  which includes loss of memory and thinking skills. As people lose their ability to hear, they don’t use the hearing-related parts of their brains as much and these parts start to break down.”

Fortunately, occupational hearing loss can be prevented when workers wear the right protection.

Still not sure how loud is too loud? Check out the image below to see how loud is too loud.


Cost-Effective Ways To Prevent Occupational Hearing Loss

  • Wear hearing protection and provide it for your workers. See the hearing protection guide.
  • Install noise-reducing mufflers.
  • Replace worn machinery parts.
  • If possible, distance yourself from the source of the noise.
  • Minimize the amount of time you spend in noise settings as much as possible.
  • Be familiar with the noise hazards that are present in an everyday work setting.

Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss

  • A ringing or buzzing occurring in the ear.
  • Difficulty hearing other people clearly.
  • Listening to the radio or television louder than normal.
  • Asking co-workers or family members to constantly repeat themselves.
  • Difficulty hearing on the phone.

Click here to download the FREE NIOSH Sound Meter App