The World Health Organization celebrated World Hearing Day 2017 earlier this month, a day dedicated to raising awareness and promoting ear and hearing care around the world. This year’s theme was “Action for hearing loss: make a sound investment.” Investment in your staff’s health care, as we know, is also an investment in your business, through absentee reduction, higher production and retention, and subsequently a better bottom line. Currently, the leading cause of occupational disease is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). The commitment employers have to their employees to keep them safe from damaging levels of noise exposure on the job is one that can be made easily and thus make NIHL preventable. Unlike other occupational health risks, NIHL can go unnoticed for some time and therefore remains a leading cause of injury in the workplace for the following reasons:

  1. The noise is insidious
  2. Damage to the ears occurs at 85dB, but pain is not felt by individuals until 100dB
  3. It doesn’t affect all hearing
“White noise” in some workplaces consists of a hum, from such sources as overhead lighting, computers, refrigerators, and traffic outside the windows. But for the majority of workers, the constant sounds of equipment whirring, tools blasting or cranes squealing allow for acclimatizing to these noises, especially if they remain consistent in their sound levels.  Consequently, workers can become accustomed to damaging noise levels and yet not realize the impact on their hearing until it’s too late. NIHL is a devastating and irreversible impairment that affects more than just hearing capabilities. In addition to hearing loss, workers affected by NIHL experience non-audiological symptoms associated with the impairment including stress, fatigue, and isolation.  Often, the embarrassment tied to hearing loss can be so debilitating that staff does not necessarily wish to come forward, truly suffering in silence. When an employee’s quality of life begins to decrease as a result of these psychological and social impacts, so too does their productivity at work.  As a result, employers often notice an increase in absenteeism. It is at this point when employers tend to take note of the risks involving noise exposure, once the employee has already submitted a claim. NIHL is 100% permanent, but it is also 100% preventable. Through a hearing conservation program, employers are able to screen for early identification of hearing loss, provide rehabilitation support to those affected by work-induced hearing loss, and implement safety measures to eliminate any future cases of NIHL in the workplace. A robust hearing conservation program incorporates the following steps:

  1. Creates policies involving exposure to certain noise levels and safety requirements
  2. Evaluates work environments through sound surveys and maps
  3. Conducts individual evaluations of workers to identify their risks
  4. Reduces noise through various suggested methods
  5. Recommends hearing protection, if required
  6. Conduct annual audiometric screening on noise exposed workers to deduct early signs of noise induced hearing loss
  7. Educates individuals on the potential risks of excess noise and how to take care of themselves
  8. Provides earplug fit-testing services
  9. Evaluates company on an annual basis
Prevention is key to reducing and eventually eliminating NIHL. With a hearing conservation program, employers not only invest in a safe work environment for its employees, but they are also investing in their overall wellness. Do you think your employees are working with hearing loss? Would you know if they were? There is no better time than now to see how your organization can incorporate a program that can make NIHL preventable. Call Workplace Medical today to discuss the implementation of a hearing conservation program that suits your needs. Download this infographic for more information on the effects of noise-induced hearing loss.