For more information about occupational hearing loss please subscribe to our monthly newsletter.
How many people do you know complain about noise at their workplace? Maybe not many, but the truth is that some just get used to it and ignore the loud machines or tools. According to 2007 research, done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH); around twenty two million Americans have experience with high level of noise at their jobs.
Because so many people experience high levels of noise, it is important to take note of the different consequences and problems workers experience, and how to better prevent them. Unfortunately, excessive noise related problems are not easily curable, if at all. Below are the most frequent issues workers face, and advice on how to deal with them.
Excessive noise can be encountered in a wide variety of work environments ranging from construction sites, the recording studio, farms, mines, and factories. Commonplace health issues are hearing loss, tinnitus and high blood pressure. Hearing loss is encountered the most, as it is typically a result of prolonged exposure to excessive noise. Damage to hearing is dangerous, long lasting, and difficult to treat and cure. Hearing loss occurs when fine hairs in the ear, responsible for transmitting the sounds from the outside to the brain, are damaged by noise and thus render them incapable of sending auditory signals to the brain. When lost or damaged, these fine hairs cannot be repaired leading to permanent hearing impairment. In 2007, 14% of the workplace injuries were induced by high noise levels, and out of those, 82% suffered permanent hearing loss.
Tinnitus is a perception of buzzing or ringing in ears. It is a frequent condition, but is not typically a standalone issue. It usually precedes more serious hearing loss. Tinnitus is similarly caused by high levels of noise and constant exposure to it. There is treatment for this condition, but it is not a permanent solution as it only masks and makes the buzzing/ringing less bothersome. But constant ringing in ears can cause other issues not directly connected to hearing, such as stress, frustration, low concentration, and even a lack of sleep.
Loud noises can induce heart issues. The inborn human response to stressful experiences (Such as stress possibly caused by noise) is an increased heart rate and higher blood pressure. These stress responses do not stop once one leaves their workplace. This extra load on the heart leads to other cardiovascular diseases such as chest pain, heart attacks, or strokes.
Indirectly connected with these three issues, people encounter and suffer from several other minor health conditions. Headaches can be triggered by noise, and sometimes they can turn into migraines or long term tension headaches, connected to blood pressure. Fatigue and vertigo can also be a consequence of hearing loss. Especially vertigo as a person loses their center of gravity, causing dizziness. Complaints about fatigue are common among workers at noisy workplaces, and can have several direct causes: Over-stimulation, monotonous noise, and difficult or tiring tasks in conjunction with overbearing sounds. Some psychological issues can also arise and should be mentioned; such as stress and anxiety. Excessive noise is a frequent cause of stress in itself, and can also be a secondary effect of ear buzzing arising from Tinnitus.
Additional problems can be caused by an inability to communicate. Accidents happen due to workers not being able to hear instructions or warnings as the sounds of machines drown them out. Excessive noise also lessens productivity as workers find it hard to focus and communicate with each other.
As always, there are ways to protect workers and prevent harm done to them. It is managements job to provide workers with the appropriate knowledge and equipment for work in specific areas. Some ways to improve working conditions are the following:
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has standards of noise levels that should be followed. If they are, the risk of any noise induced impairments decreases. It is crucial to follow those standards and regulations to improve the quality of workplace and lives of the workers.