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Preventing hearing loss in noisy work environments

The following is a guest post from Samantha Harvey on behalf of National Hearing Care.

In our day-to-day life, most of us are exposed to noise; from the sound of a passing train to the noise of a nearby construction site. Normally, these sounds are not loud enough to damage our hearing, however, if we are exposed to loud noises that are above 85 decibels on a regular basis, it can result in noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Hearing loss may even occur if a person is exposed to an intensely loud noise just once, such as an explosion.

Within the ear, there are many small sensory cells, called hair cells. These hair cells work to convert the energy of sound into electrical signals, which are then sent to the brain. These hair cells are extremely sensitive and once they become damaged, they cannot be repaired.

Clearly, people who work in loud environments, such as construction workers or musicians, are at risk when it comes to NIHL. However, people who work in these types of professions are not the only ones at risk. According to a study carried out by a group of scientists from the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, many people are damaging their ears just by listening to music on their MP3 players or iPods.

The study found that those who listen to their music players at high volume for around five hours a week were exposing themselves to more noise than is legally permitted in workplaces such as factories or construction sites. The study also found that the maximum volume on many popular devices can generate the same amount of noise as an aeroplane taking off.

The danger with this is that people are unaware of the damage they are doing to their ears, because it happens so gradually that the damage is only noticed years later when it is too late. The researchers advise listening to music devices at only about 60 percent of the maximum sound output in order to prevent NIHL.

Another way to protect your ears when listening to music on an MP3 player or iPod is to invest in a good pair of headphones. Noise cancelling headphones will prevent you from setting the volume too high when you are listening to music in a noisy environment, such as an aeroplane, bus or train.

Night clubs and concerts also present a risk to the young people who frequent them. According to research carried out by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), between 60 to 70 percent of all frequent clubbers or concert goers have reported some form of hearing loss.

This is unsurprising considering that nightclubs can produce sounds up to 129 decibels, which is louder than the sound produced by a pneumatic drill. Those who work in environments where sound levels exceed 85 decibels are required by law to use hearing protection.

In order to minimise these risks the RNID recommends that people take regular breaks and stand far away from speakers when clubbing or attending a concert. If you visit these types of venues on a regular basis (every weekend for example) it is recommended that you use earplugs.

Special earplugs or earmuffs should always be used when engaging in any activity where noise levels exceed 85 decibels; this can include regular activities such as mowing the lawn or using power tools. NIHL is 100 percent preventable, so it is important to be aware of the risks and take the necessary precautions.