Seeing your favorite band live? Mowing the lawn on the weekend? Listening to your iPod on the way to work? All of these activities are part of our daily lives, but what we may not realize is how many of them generate sounds at a level above what is considered safe and can actually damage sensitive structures in the inner ear and cause Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).
Honeywell, the largest provider of safety products, including a range of hearing protection offerings, is marking the 20th Anniversary of International Noise Awareness Day by helping to educate about the potential dangers of noise we encounter off-the-job.
Noise induced hearing loss is a permanent hearing impairment resulting from prolonged exposure to high levels of noise. Noise in the workplace is regulated around the world and remains an ongoing priority for safety professionals and workers alike. Often overlooked? Leisure noise.
“People mistakenly think they have to be a steel worker, rock star or a race car driver to suffer hearing loss. The fact is, many employees pick up hearing loss off-the-job and bring it on the job,” explains Brad Witt, an Audiologist and Director of Hearing Conservation for Honeywell Safety Products’ Howard Leight brand of hearing protection equipment. “We assault our ears regularly – and dangerously – because we don’t often think about leisure noise as being potentially hazardous. Hearing loss is a function of noise intensity and duration. The louder the noise and longer the exposure, the greater the chance of damaging your hearing.”
In fact, one in 10 Americans has suffered hearing loss that affects his or her ability to understand normal speech. Furthermore, the National Institute of Health reports that about 15 percent of Americans aged 20 to 69 have high frequency hearing loss related to occupational or activities outside of work. Prolonged exposure to noise in excess of 85 decibels (dB), about the loudness of common noises including a hair dryer, smoke alarm or blender, can pose the risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
Recent studies show an alarming increase in hearing loss in younger generations. In fact, 1 billion young people (ages 12-35) are at risk for hearing loss because of recreational noise. Evidence suggests that loud rock music along with increased use of portable radios with earphones contribute to the cause. “According to the World Health Organization, 360 million people around the world suffer from some level of hearing loss, and it estimates that up to half of those instances could have been prevented,” Witt said.
Many other common activities, rock concerts (120 dB), auto racing (130 dB), chainsaws (118 dB), music players (103dB), motorcycles (105 dB), lawnmowers (94 dB) and power tools (93 dB) also pose risk from prolonged exposure, and could result in hearing damage and/or ringing in the ears from even short exposures. Fireworks clock in at 162 dB and firecrackers at 150 dB – loud enough to cause immediate physical damage to the ear if unprotected, and equivalent to artillery fire, a jet engine on take-off or a rocket launch.
The good news is that NIHL is preventable. Here are some steps you can take to protect your ears:
- Be aware of which noises can cause hearing damage (those at or above 85 decibels)
- Reduce/Eliminate the noise if you are able
- If you have no control over the loudness of the noise or can’t protect yourself from it, move away from it
- If possible, wear earplugs or other protective devices when involved in a loud activity
- Listen to music with earphones at 80 percent volume for no longer than 90 minutes at a time
- Schedule a test to have your hearing looked at if you think you might have hearing loss
For more information on preventing Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) in the workplace, download Honeywell’s white paper The Benefits of Fit Testing Hearing Protectors or visit http://www.honeywellsafety.com
See the infographic to learn more.