Hearing Loss: Review of Risky Professions

Could noisy conditions on the job be damaging your hearing? Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common cause of hearing loss. Worrying about your ability to hear is a normal reaction for anyone working at a high-noise occupation.The Centers for Disease Control reports that 30 million employees are exposed to harmful noise at work and an additional nine million risk hearing loss for other reasons such as metals and solvents.Occupational hearing safety is best addressed with facts and an open discussion between employers and workers. Staff should educate themselves about the risks.

Risk of hearing loss should be mitigated to the greatest extent possible in any profession. Below is a partial list of especially noisy careers.

Orchestra – Research on the noise exposures of classical musicians experienced during both rehearsals and performances found that the brass section averaged 95 decibels while the strings and brass section averaged 90 decibels. Peak volumes were 130 decibels in the brass and percussion sections. A different Swedish study demonstrated that 59 out of 139 orchestra musicians had hearing losses greater than that expected for their ages.

DJs and Nightclub Staff – Everyone that works at a night club – bartenders, security, wait staff – is at risk, not just the DJs. In a controlled study, noise levels of up to 108 decibels were recorded in popular nightclubs. The average noise level for a standard session was 96 decibels which is above the noise level at which employers are required to furnish hearing protection. The study came to the conclusion that DJs are at substantial risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss and sound exposure in nightclubs routinely surpasses safe levels.

Construction – Construction workers rank next to the highest for permanent hearing loss disabilities suffered in the workplace. Construction equipment regularly exposes staff to machinery which produces upwards of 90 decibels. A study of construction workers in Washington State showed that construction workers were exposed to 85 decibels or greater in about 70 percent of their shifts, yet wore their hearing protectors less than 20 percent of the time.

Airport Staff – The noise of a jet airplane engine is one of the loudest auditory occupational hazards, with noise levels at a shocking 140 decibels.

Firefighters / Ambulance Drivers – All those sirens squealing accumulate over time. Numerous studies have examined the prevalence of hearing disabilities in firefighters and emergency vehicle drivers with most finding that firefighters suffer increased hearing loss compared to the general population of similar age.

Armed Forces – The top disability among United States military personnel is noise-induced hearing loss. As many as 65 percent of combat troops returning from Afghanistan have noise-induced hearing loss according to the Deafness Research Foundation.

Carpenters – The CDC states that 44% of carpenters noted that they had a perceived hearing loss.

Manufacturing – Manufacturing jobs account for the greatest numbers of permanent hearing disabilities suffered in the workplace. Manufacturing positions repeatedly expose employees to machinery and equipment which generates over 90 decibels of noise over extended periods.