Working in the hustle-bustle of the events industry, people are constantly working in loud environments. Have you ever thought of the damage that all that noise could be doing to your ears?
There are thousands of people in the United Kingdom exposed to loud noise at work every day. Additionally, 30 million people Americans are exposed to harmful sounds at work on a daily basis.
To better understand the damage that can be caused by loud noises in the workplace, we need to first understand the unit of measurement, the decibel.
Sound pressure is measured in decibels (dB), and this is used to determine safety regulations for hearing protection requirements.
The average person can hear sounds down to about 0 dB. This is the hearing threshold for the human ear. To put this into perspective, 0 dB is close to silence. A sound 10 times more powerful than that is 10dB. A sound that is 100 times more powerful than that is 20 dB. A sound 1000 times more powerful than that is 30 dB.
In the United Kingdom, the Control of Noise at Work Regulations came into force in 2005. These regulations were put into place to ensure that workers hearing is protected from excessive noise.
This regulation states that the level at which employers must provide their workers with hearing protection is 85 dB. Although, the level at which employers are required to assess the risk and provide them with information is 80 dB.
In the US, workers have protected federal laws including the Occupational Safety and Health Act and state laws such as CalOSHA. These laws state that hearing protection and training programs are required when workers are exposed to noise, they also use the 85dB threshold.
The 85 dB NIOSH standard in the United States assumes occupational noise exposure of 8 hours per day, 250 days a year, for 40 years. It also assumes that the worker is exposed to quieter noise levels when not at work.
It is easier to understand noise if we put it into context. Each 10 point dB increase (like going from 70 dB to 80 dB) represents a tenfold increase in sound energy. This is the case even if it is only perceived as twice as loud by the human ear.
A normal conversation occurs at about 60 dB. Office noise or the noise inside a car at 60 miles-per-hour is around 70 dB. A vacuum cleaner or the average radio is around 75 dB and heavy traffic, a noisy restaurant, or a lawnmower would be in the 80-89 dB range. A simple trick to use is if you have to raise your voice to be heard by someone else, it is likely above 80dB.
OSHA’s permissible exposure limit is set at 85DdA for individuals who work an 8-hour shift. The OSHA standard implements a 5dBA exchange rate which means that when the noise level is increased by 5 dBA. The amount of time a worker can be exposed to the sound is cut in half.
Exposure to 85dB of sound for eight hours (or more) can cause permanent damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss. At 85dB noise exposure over a lifetime of work, a total of 8% of workers will suffer some sort of hearing loss.
Why the Regulations May Be Wrong
We know that repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 dB can cause hearing loss. Current workplace regulations are based on workplace exposure only. In reality, exposure continues outside the workplace, all day long, all year long, for the individual’s entire life.
So someone that works in a loud environment for 8 hours, with regulated breaks, etc, is protected by work regulations, but outside of work, that exposure still goes on. So the actual safe noise exposure level to prevent any kind of hearing loss is probably even lower than 70 dB time-weighted average for one day. This is highlighted further with the EPA suggesting that 96% of the population would be protected if their average 24 hour noise exposure was below 70dB.
5 Tips to Protect Your Hearing
- Use earplugs whenever you can
- Take regular breaks when working in loud noise environments
- Exercise your ears regularly
- Let your ears recover after working in loud conditions
- Don’t use cotton buds
This is a guest post by Earpieceonline.
Earpieceonline are a supplier of radio earpieces to the events industry, They have a concern for people working in loud environments and are actively promoting ways to prevent hearing loss.