Hazardous noise levels and ototoxic chemicals at work can cause hearing loss. Employers in Illinois are requires to protect workers from loud noise or chemical exposures that cause hearing loss, but injuries still occur. Nationwide, approximately 22 million workers are exposed to dangerous noise levels on the job. Similarly, 30 million are exposed to ototoxic chemicals.
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Dangerous Decibels at Work
Decibel levels can rise quickly on the worksite. Diesel trucks operate at roughly 85 dB, lawnmowers at about 90 dB, and chainsaws at about 110 dB. Most jackhammers operate at around 120 dB, while heavy equipment such as backhoes, cranes, etc. can operate at between 100-120 dB. In many cases, these machines and tools operate at the same time which can create a deafening cacophony of sound that can cause permanent hearing damage. Repeated exposures can compound the injury and leave the individual unable to perform work-related functions safely and effectively.
Preventing Hearing Loss
Workers should proactively protect themselves from hearing damage. This is especially important when they work in environments where decibel levels can reach or exceed 85 dB. Wearing the proper hearing protection is the best way to do this. All hearing protection should be rated for the types of noises and work environments the individual works within. Whenever mechanized equipment or electrical machinery is in operation, workers should wear their protection.
Stemming the Damage
Hearing damage is often discovered only after it has occurred. Recognizing the signs of hearing loss is crucial as it’s the best way to prevent further damage from occurring. When hearing loss is present, workers should undergo regular check-ups with their physician and follow their advice and recommendations.
Often, this will involve total avoidance of noisy environments and strict requirements to wear earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, or other protective gear at work. Workers may also be prescribed a hearing aid, cochlear implants, or other assistive listening devices. These can help restore some hearing function, but these devices have limitations and their effectiveness can fade over time leaving the individual deaf and unable to enjoy music, conversations, or even the simple sounds of nature. Loss of hearing may also leave victims unable to perform work-related functions which can result in significant loss of income.