Working on a noisy job site can be more than just annoying; it can severely damage your hearing. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hearing loss is the most commonly reported occupational injury among American workers. Each year, approximately 22 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to dangerous noise levels while on the job.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends that workplace noise be kept below 85 dBA. However, this isn’t always possible for workers who work in high-noise occupations like construction.
Many of the tools construction workers use everyday have noise outputs far higher than the 85 dBA threshold. For example, miter saws create noise levels of between 100 and 105 dBA and belt sanders come in at between 90 and 95 dBA. Hammer drills are one of the loudest tools, producing noise levels of nearly 115 dBA. Long-term exposure to noises this loud can result in permanent hearing loss. What’s more, even short-term exposure can result in temporary hearing loss that can cause all sorts of secondary problems.
The NIOSH recommends that employers take proactive steps to reduce workplace noise. For example, they could install noise barriers or mufflers to reduce exposure. Further, employers should be intentional about limiting the duration of loud noise exposure. Under NIOSH recommendations, the duration of a noise exposure should be cut in half every time the noise level increases by 3 dBA.
In addition, all workers should be supplied with high quality earplugs and ear muffs. However, it is important to note that ear protection alone is not a substitute for active workplace noise reduction efforts.