The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says many millions of workers nationwide, including in Missouri, deal with workplace environments with excessive noise exposure. Does this include you? If you are a carpenter, a plumber or one of many other occupations where hearing loss is common, you might be wise to take precautions.
You will not see hearing loss coming because no warning signs exist. Long-term exposure to dangerous noise levels causes gradual, irreversible damage.
How are noise levels measured?
The unit of measure for noise is decibels (dBSPL), with the highest level at 140. Higher decibels mean louder sounds, and according to safety authorities, you risk your hearing if you work in an environment with noise levels that exceed 90 dBSPL. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide employees with hearing protection in such circumstances.
Furthermore, the agency provides a schedule that indicates the number of hours your employer can expect you to work at different noise levels. For example, you may not work for more than eight hours in an area with a noise level of 90 dBSPL, two hours at 100 dBSPL and no longer than 15 minutes at a time at 115 dBSPL.
How does noise affect your hearing?
Once you lose your hearing, you cannot get it back. Currently, no cure exists for hearing loss. If you do not use hearing protection, you might experience the following:
- Excessive noise damages your auditory nerve, causing hearing loss.
- Long-term exposure to loud noises causes structural damage of the hair cells in your ears.
- When damaged, the auditory nerve cannot carry information about the sound to your brain for processing.
- Losing the communication between the auditory nerve and the brain is dangerous because, without the information, the brain cannot let your muscles know how to react. Imagine not moving out of the way because you did not hear the big rig hooting due to that break in communication.
- Hearing damage can lead to tinnitus, which is a ringing sound in your head -- in some cases, it is permanent.
While long-term exposure usually causes gradual hearing loss, a loud one-time noise like an explosion can cause instant, total deafness.
Prevention is your only option
You can protect your hearing by using ear protection such as earmuffs or earplugs whenever you work in high-noise areas. Make sure that these devices are of an approved quality that will entirely seal off your ears and prevent eardrum damage. Limit the length of time you spend in such circumstances.
You might have questions about your eligibility for workers' compensation benefits once you become aware of a gradual deterioration of your hearing. The best person to turn to might be an attorney who has experience in fighting for the rights of Missouri workers to obtain the benefits to which they deserve.