The Industrial hearing loss goes by many names: industrial deafness, occupational deafness or occupational hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss. It claims a great number of victims across various industries, yet not enough people are aware of it. Is noise induced hearing loss permanent? Find out more in order to keep yourself and your hearing protected.

cutting wood with bandsaw

What is the Noise Induced Hearing Loss?

The Industrial hearing loss is deterioration of hearing in one or both ears caused by occupational noise in one’s workplace. Traditionally these workplaces involve heavy machinery, electrical equipment, and power tools. However, while this may be common, it is not exclusive and a single instance of impact noise in your otherwise quiet working environment could cause impairment to your hearing. It should not, on the other hand, be confused with the chemically-induced hearing loss which is a type of occupational loss but having exposure to certain chemicals cause the damage rather than the noise present. Also, one could say this is a type of noise-induced hearing loss, but not necessarily an equivalent as noise exposure may happen out of the workplace e.g. recreational activities such as hunting or DIY hobbies. The noise affects the hair cells lining the inside of cochlea found in the inner ear and causes loss of hearing in the high frequencies.

What Causes the Industrial Hearing Loss?

The Industrial hearing loss is caused by a substantial level of noise over a prolonged period of time. The “substantial” in this case is defined as 85dB and the period of time limited to 8 hours. Different countries worldwide have different regulations, but for most the limit of 85dB is the legal requirement for an employer to provide hearing protective devices and conduct regular hearing tests. While for example, Australia is likely to acknowledge any noise above 85dB as harmful, the EU has limited it to 87dB and the USA to 90dB. Under e USA’s OSHA, the permissible exposure limit halves by each increase of 5dB, thus exposure limit of 8hours at 90dB, drops to 4hours at 95dB. The impact noise or the maximum peak exposure level is 140dB for the USA and Australia, and 137dB in the EU.

Who is Affected the Most?

The question is very difficult to answer as noise can affect people of all ages and walks of life. If we were to take into consideration the recreational noise and the household noise, we could say that everyone is equally affected. As an example for this, we have commuters worldwide who listen to music on their way to and from work, usually at very high levels in an attempt to cancel the noise of the traffic around them. Such noise exposure, even if it is not industrial nor intentional, can cause severe hearing impairment. Looking at the industries, construction workers, manufacturers, engineering workers, truck drivers, miners, airport ground crew, music industry workers, and tradespeople are some of the most common occupations affected by the levels of occupational noise.

How to Recognize the Industrial Hearing Loss?

As mentioned above, the industrial hearing loss happens in the high frequencies. With this in mind, a quick screening test of your hearing is usually sufficient proof of industrial deafness. On the other hand, if you did not have a chance of confirming the state of your hearing as yet, here are some of the signs that you need to have a checkup:

  • If you are unable to hear conversation against any background noise
  • If the people around you seem to be “swallowing” their consonants
  • If your TV or radio seems to be quieter than usual and you need to turn them up
  • If you feel intermittent or constant ringing noise in your ear
  • If your friends or family members tell you to do so, they are almost always the first ones to notice, and they are doing it out of the best intention

How to Prevent It?

The prevention of industrial deafness needs to happen on both ends, the employers’ and the employees’. The employers need to assess noise levels in the working environment they provide for their employees. If the noise levels are 85dB or higher, they need to act according to the law and do what they can to protect their workers. Namely, they need to:

  • Try and provide quieter equipment
  • Insulate the machinery used so it makes less noise and vibrations
  • Provide hearing protection for everyone required to work in the areas exposed to noise
  • Use noise barriers
  • Segregate people from the sources of noise
  • Leave the loudest type of work for the parts of the day when there are the least workers
  • Present, and protect the administrative staff by sound-proofing near-by offices and providing them with an entrance which does not require passing through the noisy areas.

Is noise-induced hearing loss permanent?

First of all, never give up on your hearing. Even if you have found that you have learned to cope, the process of coping has probably involved certain changes to your lifestyle and commonly an impact on your social life. There is no need to keep it that way if there is a simple solution. Once a hearing test shows that there truly is damage to hearing, the best place to start is to seek an advice from the specialist who has conducted the test. They will be able to advise whether you would benefit from a hearing device and the exact type best suited for your condition.

Ignoring the advice is the worst thing you can do, particularly if you are still in the same working environment. Apart from causing lifestyle changes, hearing loss is also a safety issue. This field of medicine has also seen great impacts of the new-age technology and the devices now made could help you restore your hearing entirely. The devices are often available through different insurance and benefits programs. Apart from that, the industrial hearing loss is also treated as an occupational injury and you could potentially get compensated for the damage you have suffered.

Treat noise as any other hazard found in your workplace. Rapport any issues you recognize. Protect yourself and your rights by insisting on working in a safe environment. Do whatever you can to stay safe and do not ignore any regulations imposed by the law and your workplace.