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Occupations with high risk of hearing damage

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Too much and too loud noise at work can damage your hearing. Hearing damage at work is in the top three of occupational diseases in the Netherlands, alongside psychological and physical disorders; of all occupational diseases, about one in three is a report of hearing damage. Converted, this means that more than half a million workers in the Netherlands are at risk of noise-related deafness or noise-induced hearing loss. In practice, the number of cases of hearing damage is probably even higher because many people with a hearing problem do not immediately link the ailment to their work environment. Because of this, it is good to know what the high-risk occupations for hearing damage are.

Hearing damage occurs because vibrating hairs in the ear become damaged. Ageing can be a cause of this, but so can exposure to loud noises. Sound pressure causes the cilia to become overloaded and break down. They then do not pass on information or pass on the wrong information, making you hear worse or only squeaks or murmurs. This deterioration cannot be cured.

Communication is paramount in virtually all occupations. Consider, for example, a work meeting or safety instruction. In addition, trouble-free communication contributes to a positive atmosphere in the workplace. An employee with poor hearing may encounter problems in this regard. In addition to hearing damage, excessive and loud noise can also lead to fatigue, concentration disorders, stress and increased blood pressure. It also increases the risk of having an accident because warning signals are not heard or are not heard as well. The complaints caused by harmful noise often affect absenteeism. The combination of psychological and physical complaints caused by noise can, in the worst case, even lead to depression or burnout.

To protect workers from hearing damage, employers must identify the places and activities where risks might occur. (Additional) measures should be taken and their effectiveness monitored.

Sound

Sound can be described as the audible change in air pressure. If the difference in air pressure is very large, damage can occur in the ear. When exposed to a large dose of sound, temporary reduction in hearing or tinnitus may occur or you may notice a beeping sound. With occasional exposure, hearing will be able to recover from these symptoms in most cases. With frequent exposure, on the other hand, permanent hearing damage may occur. This damage can occur acutely, but usually occurs gradually. When a person is bothered by gradually occurring hearing damage, it may manifest itself in the following situations:

  • the person in question turns up the volume of radio and TV increasingly loudly
  • he often starts talking louder himself
  • he has difficulty making a phone call or a conversation in a crowded environment
  • he can no longer hear soft sounds or high notes
  • he sometimes hears humming, whistling or beeping sounds.

In which occupations is there a greater risk of hearing damage work?

The number of sickness reports due to hearing damage is highly dependent on the sector of employment. Hearing damage construction and industrial sectors, partly due to the noise caused by the use of heavy machinery, are well-known problems. Nevertheless, the risk of hearing damage is also present in a large number of other occupations. In these occupations, hearing damage usually occurs gradually, so it is often not immediately associated with the performance of the profession in question. Occupations affected by high noise levels are:

  • construction workers
  • metal and woodworkers
  • government personnel such as police and defense
  • farmers
  • truck drivers
  • forklift drivers
  • musicians
  • disc jockeys

However, harmful noise also occurs in less obvious places such as daycare centers, recreation centers, swimming pools and gymnasiums. For example, physical education teachers are at risk of hearing damage when they teach in gymnasiums or sports halls with poor acoustics. The combination of the squeaking of athletic shoes, the bouncing of balls, the screeching sound of referee whistles, the banging of field hockey sticks against each other and the shouting of an entire group of children produces a torrent of noise. Poor acoustics, caused by finishing the often large and high rooms with hard materials, create a long reverberation time that results in annoying sound reflections. These reflections can have annoying effects on people who are in the room for an extended period of time. In the education profession, technology teachers and swim instructors are also at greater risk of hearing damage.

People who work in the hospitality industry, such as in a busy café, also have an increased risk of hearing damage. Dental hygienists and plasterers use devices that make continuous noise while in use. This, too, can result in hearing damage over time. Emergency service personnel and motorcycle officers are also often bothered by loud noises while working.

When is noise harmful?

The perceptible number of decibels varies by workplace. In an average office you work in 50 decibels, while on the runway at a departing airplane you have to deal with 140 decibels. A number of occupations in between, we list below for you:

Appeal and number of decibels

Employee quiet office 50 dB
Waiter 55-75 dB
Teacher 75 dB
Childcare worker 70-80 dB
Distribution clerk 70-84 dB
ICU employee 45-85 dB
Truck driver 75-90 dB
Motorcycle cop 90 dB
Sports instructor 70-93 dB
Swimming instructor 80-100 dB
Dentist 70-92 dB
Bar staff 90-102 dB
Gym attendant 95-100 dB
Concert staff member 110 dB

The noise level from which you can suffer permanent hearing damage starts around 80 decibels. The hearing damage depends on how often and for how long you are exposed to the level.

Noise-related legislation

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Standard, it is harmful for an employee to work in 80 decibels for eight hours. If the noise level constantly exceeds 80 decibels, hearing damage can occur within just one working day. To give you some idea: if you can no longer understand each other during a conversation one meter away from each other, the noise level is in all likelihood above 80 dB. Employers are legally obliged to prevent all damage, including hearing damage, to their employees. In addition, the employee himself also has certain obligations.

As you read earlier, sound levels are represented in decibels (dB), and each ear has a different sensitivity to various frequencies. To take this into account, sound is measured with an A filter. The sound level is then expressed in the unit dB(A). About noise in the workplace, the following rules are laid down by law:

  • the employer must provide hearing protectors if the employee is exposed to more than 80 dB(A) daily
  • the employee is required to wear hearing protectors when daily exposure exceeds 85 dB(A)
  • If exposure exceeds 85 dB(A), a plan of action must be drawn up. This plan of action is part of an RI&E, a risk inventory and evaluation. This identifies the risks and dangers for a company's personnel. It looks at what occupational risks exist and which are the most important and/or greatest. The action plan must make clear what measures will be taken to prevent hearing damage. The plan must be evaluated regularly.
  • if the limit of 87 dB(A) is exceeded, the noise must be reduced immediately below the limit (the limit is measured in the ear, taking hearing protectors into account)
  • employers must educate employees about the danger of noise
  • in order to determine whether the measures taken are effective, employees are entitled to a hearing test at least once every four years.

To give you an idea of how quickly someone is at risk of hearing damage at a specific noise level, below are some workplaces with the (average) number of decibels as well as the number of safe working hours at the dB level:

Location, number of dB and number of safe time

Swimming pool 80 dB - 8 hours
Construction workshop 86 dB - 1 hour
Workshop metal 95 dB - 15 minutes
Discotheque 102 less than 5 minutes

Hyperacusis noise dB earplugs

How can hearing damage be prevented?

To determine the daily dose of noise, the law assumes working days of eight hours. Exposing workers to noise for less time can reduce the load. If the duration is halved, the reduction will be 3 dB(A). Thus, for an eight-hour exposure to 83 dB(A), the load at four hours will become 80 dB(A), assuming the noise dose is significantly lower during the other four hours.

To reduce harmful noise in the workplace, an employer can take a number of measures:

  • he can buy and use quieter machines
  • he can develop (or have developed) quieter production methods
  • he can place the machines in special, soundproof cabinets
  • he can have his staff work in soundproof booths
  • he can try to limit the exposure time as much as possible.

If the above measures cannot be implemented immediately or if they do not prove effective enough, hearing protection devices should be used.

Employers and employees are often unaware of workplace noise levels and the additional risks of hearing damage construction and all other occupational sectors. When you deal with noise in the workplace on a daily basis, (preventive) hearing protection is highly recommended.

In the construction and industrial sectors, hearing protectors are the most common: 70.6% of workers regularly use hearing protectors. However, research shows that hearing protection is not used in all sectors by employees who encounter noise during working hours. The percentage is already considerably lower in the business sector (36%), agriculture (33.6%), transport (27.5%) and recreation (20.7%) and, in particular, in healthcare (7.3%), hospitality (7.1%) and education (10.3%), it is rarely used, despite the high noise levels. These data were obtained from the NCvB's report "Occupational Diseases in Figures" and the TNO's National Survey of Working Conditions.

Hearing protection at work

To reduce the risks of developing hearing damage from noise exposure, you can use hearing protectors such as otopolastics. These are custom-made earplugs. Because of the precise fit, made to your ear, they are very comfortable. Inside the otopolastics is a filter that ensures perfect attenuation of annoying sounds. Because there are different filters, a suitable filter for every situation can be found and attached to the earplug. The earplugs are made of a flexible and soft material, which improves wearing comfort. Otopolastics are a very good hearing protection at work: they are small and hardly noticeable, but last for years. They subtly do a very good job and are a very good investment for your ears.

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