An Introduction to Noise As An Occupational Hazard

Everywhere you are in the workplace, there is noise. Approximately 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise while on the job. Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common occupational hazard for workers. The good news is this occupational hazards is 100% pre-ventable.

Prevention of noise as an occupational hazard can be managed in three ways:

1) Engineer out the hazard.
2) Establish administrative controls such as job rotation of employees in high noise area.
3) Provide personal protective equipment such as earplugs to protect workers from occupational noise.

Specifically speaking, occupational noise is most frequently present above the allowable exposure limits; refer to your local jurisdiction, at construction sites and most general industry workplaces.

What is noise and how is it defined? Noise is defined as a sound or sounds that is, loud, unplea-sant and undesired. Noise is simply any unwanted sound. It is a byproduct of industrial process such as operating machinery that either damages or destroys the nerves in the inner ear.

Noise induced hearing loss occurs from overexposure to loud sound. Noise has the potential of causing both auditory and non-auditory health effects, if not controlled properly. Remember, there is no cure for noise-induced hearing loss. This is why conducting a noise survey is neces-sary at all worksites and should be taken seriously by the employer.

Here are a few examples of noise as an occupational hazard:

  • Temporary hearing loss is due to short term overexposure of noise. Hearing returns when you are away from the noise.

Noise

  • Permanent hearing loss results from exposure to a moderate or high level of noise over a long period of time. This type of hearing loss does not return when you leave the noise area. Per-manent hearing loss is just that, permanent.
  • Another effect of exposure to high noise levels in the workplace as an occupational hazard would be ‘tinnitus’, permanent ringing in the ear. Tinnitus sufferers usually complain of con-stant whistling, squealing, roaring or bussing in one or both ears. Severe tinnitus may disrupt sleep, reduce concentration and cause irritability and even depression.

Hearing loss from noise exposure is usually not noticed because it is gradual. Generally a person loses the ability to hear higher pitches first.

Signs of hearing loss include asking people to speak louder so that you can hear. For example, do you have to increase the volume of the TV or radio so loud that others complain about it? Common sounds may be louder than you think.Below is an example of what I mean.

Our ears can recover from short exposure to loud noise, but over time nerve damage will occur, The longer and louder the noise, the greater chance permanent damage will occur. Have you heard the saying, “Getting use to it?” When it comes to occupational noise, there is no such thing. You do not get use to it.

Below are two photos that show how occupational noise effect hair cells when not managed cor-rectly.

NoiseIn closing, noise is an occupational hazard that must be managed daily to ensure the safety and well being of workers. Hopefully this article provided some insight as to how noise is defined as an occupational hazard along with the consequences when the hazard is not managed correctly.

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