“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Just as you would take preventative measures to protect yourself from heart disease or diabetes, or your head from injury if you cycle or ski, it pays to protect yourself from occupational hearing loss and hearing problems caused by exposure to loud music, motors and gun shots.
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Sounds That Can Damage Your Ears
Industrial workplace noises, gunfire, loud music and other common, everyday sounds that are louder than 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss. Just how loud is 85 decibels?
Take a look at these decibel ratings and permissible exposure times provided by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (NIOSH/CDC)
Intensities of Common Sounds in Decibels
|Sounds||Intensities||Permissible exposure time|
|City Traffic, inside the car||85 dB||8 hours|
|Bulldozer||88 dB||4 hours|
|Jazz Concert||91 dB||2 hours|
|Power Mower||94 dB||1 hour|
|Nightclub||97 dB||30 minutes|
|Ambulance Siren, inside driver window down||100 dB||15 minutes|
|Rock Concert, Leaf Blower||115 dB||30 seconds|
For a complete listing of over 1700 noises and their corresponding decibel levels, check out this list of Exposure Time Guidelines from Dangerous Decibels.
Occupational Hearing Protection
According to the NIOSH, approximately 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work, causing an estimated $242 million per year to be spent on worker’s compensation due to hearing loss disability.
NIOSH recommends “all worker exposures to noise be controlled below a level equivalent to 85 dBA for eight hours to minimize occupational noise induced hearing loss.” NIOSH also recommends “a 3 dBA exchange rate so that every increase by 3 dBA doubles the amount of the noise and halves the recommended amount of exposure time.”
Loud, constant sounds all day long at work can cause long term hearing problems. Loud, sudden noises (gunfire, industrial noises, woodworking, motorcycles, loud music, motorized lawn equipment, noisy hobbies and other noises louder than 90 db) are more damaging to hearing than regular and extended exposure to loud sounds over a period of time.
NIOSH recommends a hearing loss prevention program that includes the use of hearing protection devices, periodic hearing tests and education for workers along with administrative controls that include accurate record keeping, evaluations and audits.
When properly fitted, earplugs can significantly reduce loud noises and prevent hearing damage and loss. Hearing protectors not properly fitted to the wearer’s ears do not effectively prevent damaging noises from penetrating the ear canal.
Ear Protection for Hunters and Recreational Shooters
As many as 50 percent of all recreational shooters may suffer some degree of hearing loss. It is generally thought that loud noises in excess of 90 decibels are harmful to hearing over prolonged exposure. Most gunfire exceeds 130 decibels and requires reliable, quality hearing protection. Using ear protection can prevent needless and permanent damage to hearing.
Hunting requires one to have the ability to hear very soft sounds, while still protecting the ear from the peak noise levels of a shotgun blast. Fortunately, hunters have many options for protection. Not only can they choose from custom or over-the-counter ear plugs or earmuffs, they can also choose protection devices that provide amplification while reducing the sounds of gunfire down to a safe level.
Electronic earplugs enhance the sounds around you. For example, you can hear game movement but also reduce impulse sounds (such as gunfire) down to a safe level. This helps prevent damage to your hearing. Electronic earplugs are available in custom molds as well as standard, less expensive alternatives.
Hearing Protection for Law Enforcement
If you are involved in law enforcement you undoubtedly know how important your sense of hearing is to perform your job effectively. You may also have experienced a situation where firing your weapon has temporarily reduced your ability to hear. And if it hasn’t already happened, there may be a future situation where your partner or a member of your team will be forced to fire their weapon in close proximity or in a confined area. The potential damage to your hearing could be severe and could result in irreversible hearing loss.
Ear Protection for Musicians
Professional musicians work in a high decibel environment in which hearing loss, tinnitus, hypersensitivity to sound and sound distortion can result.
Traditional earplugs will not work for the professional musician, as they reduce sound by muffling low-to-mid-range frequencies. Custom musicians ear molds are available that can protect the musician’s ears from loud sounds without distorting what they hear. There are also a variety of ‘in ear monitors’ that will enhance the music experience whether you are a serious musician or just a music aficionado. Many other products are also available that will enhance the music experience.
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