Workplace Noise - A guide to Hearing Loss
Prolonged exposure to loud music, sound or noise will compromise your hearing and can result in permanent damage. And this applies whether you are at home, on the move or at work.
Many people have office jobs in buildings with safe noise levels but other people work in places where they are exposed to constant and excessive levels of noise on a daily basis. This damages the ear gradually over time and leads to hearing loss.
This was more of a problem in the past when people worked in large factories and mills and had to endure deafening amounts of noise on a constant basis.
Things have changed since then and there are regulations in place which state the safe level of noise workers can be exposed to. And companies which operate in these environments can provide ear protection to safeguard against ear damage. Internationally it has been agreed that the level at which noise (or sound) is likely to damage hearing is 85 decibels. Constant exposure at this level will damage the hearing and above this level can lead to permanent hearing loss.
Basically the longer you are exposed to noise above these levels the quicker the risk of any damage. If you are exposed to an explosion or noise over 140 decibels then damage is almost instantaneous.
How does excessive noise damage the ear?
The reason for this is the tiny hair cells within the cochlea. Noise travels through the ear as a series of waves and when they reach the ear drum they cause this to vibrate. This vibration causes the ossicles to move as well.
The ossicles help these vibrations on their way to the inner ear where they reach the cochlea. The cochlea is lined with numerous tiny hair cells which transmit these as electrical signals to the brain.
But sound waves are amplified as they travel through the ear and if these were excessively loud to begin with then they will damage or destroy the hair cells. These hair cells cannot be regenerated or repaired.
Scars also form on the site of these destroyed hair cells which distorts sound waves leading to strange or unwanted sounds such as ringing or crackling. One example of this is tinnitus which is characterised by these and other sounds and often develops after noise exposure.
Safety measure in the workplace
Health and Safety people can monitor noise levels in the workplace using sound level meters. They can also advise on ways of reducing excessive noise levels or steps that can be taken to protect workers against noise damage. These may include the wearing of ear protectors (ear defenders), taking breaks away from noisy machinery and free hearing tests on a regular basis.
It may be possible to move noisy machinery into a soundproofed area or as far away from the workforce as necessary. These are all things that can be discussed between businesses and Health and Safety officials.
If you work in this type of environment then follow these precautions to the letter as they are designed to protect your hearing.
But if you do notice any signs of hearing loss then see your GP.