Hearing Safety

DeWalt Interceptor Folding Earmuff

DeWalt Interceptor Folding Earmuff

Industrial machinery. Heavy construction equipment. Power tools. Aircrafts. Gunfire. Motorcycles. Race tracks. Dental drills. Sporting events. Fireworks. Rock concerts. Marching bands. Yard equipment.

All involve people. All involve loud noise. And, potentially, all contribute to hearing loss.

While a single event – like a firecracker or rock concert – can lead to ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss, repeated exposure to loud noises are more likely to lead to permanent hearing loss.

Hearing loss affects 1 in 10 Americans and is mostly age-related and unpreventable. However, it can also be caused by the cumulative effects of excessive noise exposure, which IS PREVENTABLE.

The workplace often presents significant potential for hearing loss. OSHA offers the following regarding hearing safety in the workplace:

  • Approximately 30 million people in the United States are exposed to hazardous noise.
  • Noise-related hearing loss is one of the most prevalent work-related health concerns and has been for 25 years.
  • Thousands of workers suffer yearly from hearing loss due to workplace noise.

And that’s in addition to the individuals suffering hearing loss from noise encountered outside of work.

How Ears are Damaged

According to Noise & Hearing Protection, “When noise is too loud, it begins to kill the nerve endings in the inner ear. Prolonged exposure to loud noise destroys nerve endings. As the number of nerve endings decreases, so does your hearing. There is no way to restore life to dead nerve endings; the damage is permanent. The longer you are exposed to a loud noise, the more damaging it may be. Also, the closer you are to the source of intense noise, the more damaging it is.”

In other words, ears are damaged over time, and damage depends on amount, length and intensity of exposure to noise.

Identifying Hearing Loss & Its Causes

Because hearing loss is painless and gradual, you might not notice it. So how can you tell?

  1. You might notice a ringing or other sound in your ear (tinnitus)
  2. You may have trouble understanding what people say.
  3. People may seem to be mumbling, especially when surrounded by other noise.
  4. Speech or music sounds muffled when you leave a noisy situation but fairly clear the next morning.

Protect Your Hearing

Obviously, noise cannot be completely eliminated. But, there are some simple approaches to reduce the risk of cumulative hearing loss.

  1. Wear earplugs and/or earmuffs. Wear hearing protection when working in an excessively noisy environment, when using power tools and lawn equipment, when firing a gun, and when riding a motorcycle or snowmobile.
  2. Be sure to choose the right kind of hearing protection.Combating Common Objections to Hearing Protection wear says that “the right kind of hearing protection brings noise levels to a point where they won’t cause damage but necessary sounds like conversations can still be heard.”
  3. Wear hearing protection consistently. Finding the right size and type of gear is important to increase the chance consistency.
  4. Turn down the sound. Decrease volume when possible (radio, television, etc.).
  5. Give your ears a break. If you’ve just vacuumed, wait a while before mowing the lawn.
  6. Enjoy silence. Give your ears regular breaks not just from loud noise but from any significant noise. Noise can not only affect your hearing; Noise and Hearing Protection notes that it can have a significant impact on your overall health too.
  7. Increase your awareness of noise exposure. Think about how much noise enters your day, and reduce its affects by incorporating the above tips.

How do you know if a noise is too loud? Common sense mostly, but use your arms if you’re not sure. If someone is standing at arm’s length away and you have to shout to make yourself heard, then the noise around you is probably damaging your ears.

Healthy Hearing explains that protecting yourself from hearing loss needs the same approach as protecting your skin from sun damage. They say to “remember, hearing loss is based on the cumulative effect of loud noise throughout a lifetime so, like wearing sunscreen and staying in the shade, wear ear plugs when doing yard work or whenever you know you’re going to be exposed to the roar of a riding mower for more than a few minutes.”

Indoor Air Quality, Part II

Indoor Air Quality, Part I provides a list of questions to ask to help you determine if poor indoor air quality (IAQ) might be a problem in your workplace. If it is a problem and you’ve seen your doctor, consider the following steps for improving the IAQ of your workplace and for reducing the impact where conditions cannot be altered.Man Holds Breath

Tips for Improving Indoor Air Quality

OSHA states that while it does not have standards in place that employers must follow for IAQ, employers are required to “follow the General Duty Clause of the OSHAct, which requires them to provide workers with a safe workplace that does not have any known hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury.”

Within the General Duty Clause, employers should be aware of any hazards that are detrimental to the health of employees. OSHA further states that “the qualities of good IAQ should include comfortable temperature and humidity, adequate supply of fresh outdoor air, and control of pollutants from inside and outside of the building.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says there are 3 basic strategies for improving IAQ. Included with those three strategies are tips for ways to improve poor IAQ and maintain good IAQ. The sources are provided by a variety of sources including the EPA, the Oregon Environmental Council and the PR Newswire and present a sampling of the ways to properly manage IAQ.

  1. Source Control. This involves eliminating individual sources of pollution or reducing their emissions. This can be as simple as storing food and disposing of garbage properly. It can also mean avoiding using items that aren’t necessary and that could be potentially harmful. Source control also involves putting “scraper” mats by doors to eliminate contaminants brought in on people’s shoes as well as mopping floors regularly to clean away contaminants.
  2. Ventilation. This means increasing the flow of air from the outside as well as making sure ventilation within a building is not hindered by things such as furniture and equipment. Good IAQ also involves paying attention to a building’s heating, ventilation and HVAC system, such as by cleaning such systems regularly to remove buildup.
  3. Air cleaners. Replacing filters regularly is essential for air cleaners in any building to work properly for maintaining good IAQ. HEPA filters can also be used on vacuums to help eliminate allergens. Another tip is keeping dehumidifiers and air conditioners at optimal range for keeping allergens at bay. And sometimes, wearing a particle respirator might be in an employee’s best interest for preventing inhaling of harmful dust, fumes, vapors and gas.

While the above tips provide ideas to consider when looking at a building’s IAQ, keep in mind that every situation is different. Each business should develop an IAQ policy to suit the unique needs of its situation.

Another consideration is to note that even though we’ve become more environmentally conscious, IAQ has not necessarily improved. Dr. Philip Landrigan, the Dean for Global Health at Mount Sinai of Medicine in New York, says this is because “business buildings today are sealed much tighter to keep interior air cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. The downside is that this can also lock-in contaminants. The basic lesson for every health-minded person is to keep attuned to the quality of the air you breathe — no matter the season.”

Indoor Air Quality, Part I

Man Holds BreathTake a deep breath and hold for 5 seconds. Slowly release that breath to a count of 5. Breathe in and out like that for a total of 5 repetitions. Relaxing, right? The extra oxygen you just gave your brain a needed energy boost.

Unfortunately, you may have just taken in air that actually harmed your body more than it helped it. Perhaps not, but how do you know?

Indoor Air Quality, Part I will help you understand the possible signs of poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) at work. Indoor Air Quality, Part II will provide tips for improving IAQ.

Signs of Poor Indoor Air Quality

OSHA defines Indoor Air Quality as “how inside air can affect a person’s health, comfort, and ability to work.” Within the definition exists the impact of temperature, humidity, poor ventilation, mold from water damage, and exposure to chemicals.

So what’s the best way to determine if the IAQ in your workplace is poor?

One of the best sources happens to be YOU! Consider the following questions to help evaluate the current IAQ of your workplace.

  • Do you notice any musty odors?
  • Is the building hot and stuffy?
  • Do you experience headaches and fatigue at work that disappear when you go home?
  • Do you experience fever, cough and shortness of breathe but are unable to get a diagnosis or find a cause?
  • Do you have health symptoms that are not going away or are getting worse?
  • Does your workplace have good ventilation?
  • Does your workplace have regular inspections of the ventilation, air conditioning and heating systems?
  • Do you notice any water damage, pest droppings, leaks or dirt?
  • Is there any standing water in your workplace?

Additional questions OSHA suggests asking include: Are my symptoms related to a certain time of day, season or location at work? Did the symptoms start when something new happened at work, such as a renovation or construction project? Do other people at work have similar complaints?

Simply being aware of yourself and of your surroundings can help you decide if IAQ might be a problem where you work. If, after going through the above questions, you feel that IAQ might be a problem in your workplace, first see your doctor for possible confirmation and for treatment. Then, consider implementing the tips provided in Indoor Air Quality, Part II.