Workplace Hearing Protection Could Protect Thousands of Workers from Hearing Loss, Tinnitus

For nearly 30 years, noise-induced hearing loss has been one of the most prevalent occupational health problems in the United States. Simple steps can significantly reduce the threat to workers.

PORTLAND, OR — As part of Tinnitus Awareness Week (May 18-24, 2014), the American Tinnitus Association (ATA) is urging workers and employers to take proactive steps to reduce tinnitus and hearing loss caused by occupational noise exposure. According to the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, nearly 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous workplace noise levels on a regular, if not daily, basis. This exposure has caused a tidal wave of hearing-related health issues, including tinnitus, hyperacusis, physical and psychological stress, and deafness. By one estimate, more than 125,000 workers have suffered permanent hearing loss since 2004.

“Workplace noise exposure is a growing national health issue that seriously jeopardizes the long-term wellbeing of workers and the overall productivity of businesses,” said Cara James, Executive Director of the American Tinnitus Association. “Fortunately, this is a crisis that can be averted through simple preventive measures. ATA encourages both employers and employees to take active steps to protect their hearing and minimize the long term risks of noise exposure.”

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a division of the U.S. Labor Department responsible for workplace safety, has established maximum acceptable limits on both peak volume levels and total time of daily exposure. Workspaces where the daily average volume is 85 decibels or greater are required to maintain a Hearing Conservation Program, to provide ongoing services and protection to employees.  However, each person has their own noise tolerance level, and a person with tinnitus or hyperacusis may encounter great pain when exposed to volumes much lower than OSHA’s 85 decibel maximum. Moreover, any exposure to any loud noise (however short the duration) can be detrimental to a worker’s ongoing hearing health.

ATA encourages employers to go above and beyond the regulatory minimum in hearing protection, both by developing engineering controls to reduce overall noise output and instituting administrative procedures to minimize workers’ noise exposure. These efforts will not only protect workers, but also bolster the organization’s bottom-line by reducing absenteeism and accidents, and improving productivity and morale.

ATA also urges workers to take control of their own hearing health by using appropriate ear and noise protection. Ear muffs, ear plugs, canal caps, and noise cancellation technology can all be used to reduce noise exposure and damage to the inner ear. Employees should consult a hearing health professional to find and customize a hearing protection solution that is best suited to their particular work needs.

“Cases of work-related tinnitus and hearing loss are on the rise around the country and in almost every industry sector,” notes Cara James. “We will reverse this sobering trend only when both employers and employees prioritize hearing protection and make it part of ‘business as usual.’ Together we can help thousands of workers each year protect their hearing.”