Construction sites can get noisy. Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that employment in this industry is higher than it's been for a decade in 2022, which means more people receive exposure to loud environments.
A 10-year study that followed 1.5 million American workers in the construction industry found that hearing loss is at the second-highest rate for all career options. Constant exposure to loud noises can cause significant impairment in a short time.
What can a construction worker do to protect their hearing? How are employers helping to prevent this issue from becoming an epidemic?
How Fast Does Hearing Loss Occur?
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact anyone at any age. It can be a temporary issue or a permanent problem.
About 26 million adults in the United States have experienced or are currently dealing with issues related to noise-induced hearing loss. The loud sounds from a construction site impact the cochlea the most as membranes and cells become damaged with the exposure.
Many construction workers that experience hearing loss from noise exposure experience one or more of the following symptoms.
- An inability to hear higher pitches, such as birds or people singing.
- Speech becomes distorted or muffled in regular conversation tones.
- Buzzing or ringing sounds occur in the ears even though there isn't an environmental cause for that noise.
- Feelings of pressure and fullness occur in the ear.
Even if a worker's hearing returns to normal, the inner ear's cells could still be damaged or destroyed. If this issue becomes repetitive, the condition could be permanent.
What Are the Employer's Responsibilities?
Hearing loss is preventable within the construction industry. OSHA requires all employers to implement conservation programs whenever noise exposure is at or above 85 decibels, averaged across an eight-hour shift.
These hearing conservation programs must work to prevent the initial occupational loss, protect a worker's remaining hearing, and equip people with knowledge and protection devices that offer additional safeguards.
Hearing protection falls into the personal protective equipment category. When this option works with investments in quieter machines, sound isolation, and exposure limitations, fewer issues with hearing loss typically occur.
How to Prevent Hearing Loss While Working
Workers must still implement hearing loss prevention programs and use appropriate equipment while on a job site. When you use the following techniques, you're less likely to have your life adversely affected by this issue.
1. Remove Yourself from the Environment
Workers should do their best to avoid loud environments when they aren't on the job. Even going to a concert without hearing protection after a long shift can cause sound exposures equivalent to a jackhammer.
Try to remove yourself from loud environments at or away from work as quickly as possible. You can avoid speakers, place barriers between you and the noise, or cover your ears with your hands to take a break from the sound.
2. Use Personal Protective Equipment
Hearing protection can come in several forms. The type of PPE used to prevent injury might depend on your responsibilities. Here are some of the top products your employer may provide to complete your duties – or the items you can purchase to preserve your hearing.
Always follow the instructions written on the PPE or its packaging to ensure you're using the item correctly.
3. Maintain Healthy Habits
If you're a smoker or vaper, please consider quitting the habit. It's not just about keeping your lungs healthy or cancer risks low. Smoking suffocates the cells in your body, including those in your ear, causing the chances of noise-related hearing loss to increase.
High blood sugar levels can also damage your body's cells. That's why people with unchecked diabetes often have issues with their hearing or sight.
Your doctor can help you check your blood sugar levels and advise you on quitting smoking or vaping.
4. Use Different Headphones
When construction workers operate in a noisy environment, they often listen to music to block out unwanted sounds. That means cranking up the music to cancel out the noise, creating exposures that could be louder than what is present at the job site.
Instead of blocking out the machinery sounds with loud music, consider investing in a pair of high-quality noise-canceling headphones. Even if you use white noise and active microphones to reduce sound exposure, you'll reduce the strain on your ears.
5. Prevent Ear Canal Damage
You can prevent many forms of hearing damage by ensuring nothing is ever placed directly in your ear canal. That includes devices that work to remove wax or cotton swabs. Accidental eardrum injuries from these activities are surprisingly common.
How to Wear Hearing Protection Correctly
Soft foam earplugs are a common tool used on construction sites to prevent hearing damage or loss. Workers receive the best protection from this resource by remembering to roll, pull, and hold them according to the product's instructions.
- Start by rolling the earplug into a small snake with your fingers.
- Pull the top of the ear up and back with your opposite hand to straighten the ear canal.
- Hold the product in place until it expands to create a good seal.
If you prefer earmuffs for hearing protection, the cups should be fitted and adjusted correctly to your ears and head size.
The cups should entirely enclose the ears on the PPE. Adjust them up or down to ensure the headband fits as expected across the crown of your head. When you press them toward the skin, you should not experience a significant reduction in noise levels.
It helps to check the cushions for proper fitment regularly. They need regular cleaning with a damp cloth to maintain a tight seal. Any signs of deterioration or damage should be reported immediately, and the hearing protection should be replaced.
When you proactively stop loud noises from affecting your work, you can prevent hearing loss while staying focused on your duties. Since this PPE option is so affordable, it helps to stock up on supplies to ensure you're prepared for whatever might come your way.