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Employees at Risk of Hearing Loss: What Employers Can Do to Help

Millions and millions of employees show up, do their job, clock out, and go home, day after day, month after month, year after year. For some 22 million, however, this workday routine harbors a hidden danger: potential for permanent hearing loss from exposure to loud noise in the workplace.1

Yet, according to every major regulatory and protection agency from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to the World Health Organization (WHO) to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), workplace hearing loss is 100 percent preventable.

Why, then, are U.S. businesses paying more than $1.5 million annually in penalties for improper implementation or non-compliance with OSHA’s hearing conservation program?1

Perhaps it’s because when it comes to loud and harmful noise in the workplace, people understand the need for hearing protection devices (HPDs) yet are unaware of what goes into selecting proper HPDs.

Not only can proper HPDs protect employees against hearing loss, they have the potential to save employers an estimated $242 million annually in workplace-related hearing loss disability through Workers’ Compensation.1

RISK FACTORS

When workplace noise and vibration occur at a high level or continue for an extended period of time, workers are at higher risk of experiencing temporary or permanent hearing loss.

Among those at high risk include industrial workers who are exposed to potentially damaging, high-noise situations as a result of equipment and processes associated with production, manufacturing, foundries, mills, and shops.

These high-noise situations often result from a combination of machine components and such operations as: crushing, cutting, extrusion, grinding, punching, riveting, and sanding.

While machine work and operations may be all in a day’s work for some employees, the associated noise can result in hearing loss that’s gradual, painless, and progressive. Unfortunately, it affects some 24 percent of U.S. workers, making occupational hearing loss one of the nation’s most common work-related hazards.2,3

3 HEARING-RELATED ISSUES CAUSED BY WORKPLACE NOISE

The cost of noise-induced hearing loss is shocking with a wide-reaching and holistic effect on a person’s physical, emotional, and occupational well-being.4

Physical: Excessive and/or prolonged noise can destroy inner ear nerve endings, causing permanent damage that affects a person’s ability to perform daily tasks.

Psychological: Noise-induced hearing loss can cause a wide range of mental disorders such as irritability, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, isolation, and hostility.

Occupational: Hearing impairment often interferes with communication, concentration, and job performance; is a contributing factor to workplace accidents and injuries; and may have a negative impact on a worker’s lifetime earning potential.5

3 SAFEGUARDS EMPLOYERS CAN PUT INTO PLACE

So, what can employers do to help their employees reduce exposure and conserve their hearing? Namely, implement an effective and ongoing hearing conservation program that includes three key components.

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