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If you work in a noisy environment, you might already understand how important it is to protect your hearing. Some places, such as factories, industrial sites, and transportation hubs, will require you to wear specific protection that is tailored to the decibel level of your workplace. With the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) checking in to make sure workers are protected, these regulations can be enforced with a high level of precision. Many of these workplaces hire employees specifically tasked with making sure these protective regulations are followed. Employees should receive hearing tests at the outset of their employment to establish a baseline for their hearing needs, and they can receive annual tests to measure any change in hearing ability.
Despite these realities of hearing protection in the workplace, many employers continue to put their workers at risk. Some of the largest and loudest places of business stand out to OSHA as places requiring oversight, but smaller businesses can sometimes go unnoticed. Let’s consider what you can do if you aren’t secure with the role of your employer in protecting your hearing health.
Set the Baseline
When you begin a new job, it’s a good idea to set the baseline for your hearing ability with a hearing test. You might not think you have hearing loss, but each person’s hearing ability is slightly different. Getting a baseline test is a good idea as a frame of reference down the road. If you do notice that your hearing ability is waning in the future, then knowing your baseline will help your hearing health professional recommend the right set of aids.
Check the Levels
Your place of work has a range of noise levels throughout its facility, no doubt. Even the difference between a kitchen and the front of house in a restaurant can be quite different. When you are considering your need for hearing protection at work, establish an average decibel level for these different locations. You can download a decibel meter app for your smartphone, often for free, and this meter will tell you how loud your workplace can be. However, it will be wise to have a few different readings and to take an average. Try to get a sense of the noise level at different times of day and in different places within your workplace. If necessary, you might need protection in one of these locations but not in others. From another perspective, you can limit your time in noisier places during any given shift. Your employer is responsible for protecting your hearing health while at work, so you can use this information to request a shorter shift length in one of the noisy parts of your job.
Once you have a sense of the risks to your hearing at work, it’s time to get serious about hearing protection. For many jobs, a pair of disposable foam earplugs might do the trick. These tend to reduce the noise level by 10 to 15 decibels, making it possible to stay longer in that location without experiencing hearing damage. However, some jobs require more advanced protection. You might need noise-canceling earmuffs for some very loud jobs, and some opt for noise protection helmets that have communication systems built into them.
Another popular option is a pair of custom-fitted earmolds. These protective devices are tailored to the curvature of your ears, making a snug fit where sound is not able to enter. They can also be adjusted to your needs. If you are in a place with a very loud sound at a certain frequency, these devices can be customized to attenuate that noise while letting other sounds pass through. This customizability can greatly enhance communication ability while wearing the protection.
This October is Protect Your Hearing Month, so why not get serious about wearing hearing protection. You can coordinate your plan with your employer to get assistance with any costs, and the benefits to your future hearing ability are truly priceless. Don’t delay protecting your hearing at work, as well as in leisure and recreational settings. When you have the right set of protective devices in place, you can rest at ease!