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Listen Up During World Hearing Day

March 3rd has been designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as World Hearing Day. On March 3rd, the WHO is launching a free app called HearWHO to help people check their own hearing. The U.S. National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) also developed a new website on hearing loss prevention, which includes new infographics to educate the public on the dangers of noise both on and off the job.

Harmful noise exposures in non-occupational settings like sporting events and concerts can be extremely loud. The NCEH developed ads on the dangers of noise exposure at events like these and included them in the program at the latest Super Bowl.

How can you participate in this year’s World Hearing Day? What can you do to combat hearing loss on and off the job for yourself, your family and your coworkers? Here are a few ideas:

Get your hearing tested. You might already suspect you have some level of hearing loss if it’s difficult conversing in restaurants or if you find yourself watching TV at a loud volume or always turning up the radio. Having your hearing tested only takes about 10 minutes and can show your current level of hearing loss and how to better protect against future hearing loss.

Check noise levels on and off the job. Ask your employer to check noise levels around your jobsite with a sound level meter. Any noise exposure above 85 decibels (dB) should be cause for concern, especially with the extended exposure that occurs over an eight-hour workday. At home, use a smartphone app to check the sound level of loud activities, such as running a lawn mower or riding an ATV. There are several free noise apps now available for smartphones, such as this one from NIOSH.

Once you know how loud different tasks are, you can work to reduce noise levels, limit exposure (e.g., by switching off working at noisy tasks) and wear the correct level of hearing protection to keep exposures below 85 dB. If you don’t have access to a sound level meter or smartphone, practice the “arm’s length rule” – if you have to raise your voice to be heard by someone else who is an arm’s length away (typically 3 feet), the noise level is potentially dangerous.

Commit to wearing hearing protection. This means not just sometimes, but every time you’re exposed to noise above 85 dB both on and off the job. There are many types of hearing protection available that are effective and easy to use. Flat attenuation ear plugs (also known as “musician’s plugs”) allow more of certain frequencies through, which makes it easier to have a conversation. Electronic earmuffs can reduce noise to a safe level inside the muff, yet allow for conversations to occur without the need to take off hearing protection.

Participate in hearing loss prevention training. It’s important to know the hazards of noise and how best to protect yourself. Harmful noise levels cause more than just hearing loss. It also causes tinnitus (ringing in the ears), stress and high blood pressure. This can affect your overall quality of life. For more information on noise, visit the Fund’s Noise page or order our Laborers’ Guide to Noise and Hearing Loss pamphlet or our Noise toolbox talk from the online Publications Catalogue.

Share your new noise knowledge with others. Talk with your co-workers about the importance of hearing protection and to your employer about reducing noise levels on jobsites. Employers and workers can benefit from Buy Quiet programs that take noise level into account when buying or renting equipment. NIOSH’s Power Tool Database includes noise levels on over 200 construction tools and can help employers choose quieter equipment up front.

Be Aware of Hearing Loss Risk from Chemicals

Hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses. About 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work each year. Over 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to chemicals, some of which are harmful to the ear (ototoxic) and hazardous to hearing. In addition to damaging workers’ quality of life, occupational hearing loss carries a high economic price to society. Find out if the chemicals you are using could also contribute to hearing loss.

Maintaining your hearing is important for your safety and for many other parts of life. Celebrate World Hearing Day by taking steps today to preserve your hearing for years to come.

[Scott Schneider]

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