American laborers have been honored for their hard work that has made this country a prosperous place since the end of the 19th century. For many people Labor Day is just another long weekend for celebrating and spending time with loved ones, but this federal holiday is so much more than that. Part of this weekend is recognizing the occupational safety standards that were fought for in the workplace—including hearing health protection. So let’s take a minute to think about what occupational hearing loss means to the American workforce, the steps that have been taken to prevent hearing loss, and what we can do next to prevent further hearing damage.
According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, hearing loss is the most common work-related injury! There are approximately 22 million workers exposed annually to hazardous levels of occupational noise. It is estimated that around $242 million is spent on worker’s compensation annually for hearing loss disability, according to the Department of Labor. Although mandatory safety regulations have improved for hearing safety over the past 100 or so years, there is still more than can be done.
Hearing loss may affect employee’s ability to communicate and remain productive in the workplace because the majority of today’s jobs require some form of verbal communication. Gaps in dialogue may lead to gaps in accuracy, productivity, and performance. This issue concerns both employee health and employer success—having hearing protection measures in place not only ensures individuals do not suffer from hearing damage, but companies are also protected from a dip in production. Everybody benefits from hearing protection standards!
The problem gets more complicated though—there are standards in place, but not everyone follows the measures directly as they are told. The real problem here is that employees are not fully educated on how dangerous hearing loss can be to overall health. Employers should take responsibility of ingraining more awareness among their workers. Many people who choose not to wear hearing protection at work sites do so because they are not aware of the risks—especially when they are not operating loud equipment.
One professor at Stanford University, Mark Cullen, is responsible for exploring workplace hazards. In a study, he found that employees who suffer most from hearing loss were those who were working jobs involving moderate noise levels instead of high-noise environments. “At very high noise exposures, people very faithfully wear hearing protection and at low noise situations, people don’t,” he commented. With extended exposure, if a sound reaches 85 decibels or higher it can cause permanent damage to your hearing. A dishwasher, the average factory, a car wash, a diesel truck, a food blender, or even a garbage disposal are all in the 80-90 decibel range. Hearing any of these for an extended amount of time may cause damage to the hair cells in the inner ear and may develop into hearing loss issues.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that employers establish a hearing conservation program to prevent hearing loss and increase employee awareness of the subject. An effective program monitors noise levels and employee exposure, educates workers, and provides hearing protection. Hearing loss is an important issue for both employees and employers, so this Labor Day keep in mind what has been done to improve hearing protection standards and how far we still have to go to improve conditions. Labor Day is about honoring the workforce and celebrating the progress made for American workers. Let us remember that we have an obligation to improve the lives of workers, especially when it comes to hearing health!