A significant number of New Zealand workers have jobs that risks their long-term hearing health.

You may be exposed to loud sounds on a consistent basis without realising the damage done to your hearing. Any sounds over 85 decibels should not be sustained for over 8 hours. That means if you work a traditional 40 hour workweek, your sound exposure should be under that 85 decibel mark.

The world we now live in means we are exposed to lots of noise that can damage our hearing. The cumulative exposure to loud noise during our lives can permanently damage the tiny hair cells in our ears, this damage is irreversible. Both intense but short noises like a nearby gunshot and repeated or continuous exposure to loud noises like construction equipment, can damage the hair cells and can lead to needing to wear hearing aids. This exposure is often referred to as noise pollution.

While adults are most at risk from noise induced hearing loss the increase in children and teenagers using earbuds and headphones puts them at risk as well.

Signs of noise induced hearing loss can include:

  • Experiencing Tinnitus
  • Pain in your ears after loud noise exposure
  • You are told you are talking loud
  • Inability to hear everyday conversation

Its advised to not be exposed to any sound over 85 decibels however it also depends on how long and how often this exposure occurs. A person may be exposed to sounds lower than this and still develop hearing loss because of the length of time exposed, how close they are to the sound and how often the exposure has been.

Noise induced hearing loss is most common among trade and skilled workers however it can also occur among managers and visitors at the same workplace due to short noise exposure.

Hearing loss is accumulative so even if you are only experiencing loud noise in short bursts it can cause hearing damage.

You can damage you hearing by either a one-time exposure to an extremely loud noise like a gunshot or repeated exposure to loud noise.

Typical Noise Levels

  • Shotgun – 160 Decibels
  • Jet engine taking off – 140 Decibels
  • Ambulance siren – 120 Decibels
  • Live rock concert – 110 Decibels
  • Motorcycle – 100 Decibels
  • Power tools – 90 Decibels 

Jobs That Can Lead To Hearing Loss 

Construction 

Construction sites are some of the noisiest work places on this list. The tools used produce sounds well over that 85 decibel mark, for example jackhammers, nail guns, circular saws, grinders, cutters, drills, sanders, compressors and many other kinds of electrical tools.

Damage can easily occur when you are exposed to these sorts of sounds consistently for days, months, or years with little hearing protection.

Manufacturing and Factory Work

Consistent exposure to plant and machinery, machine operators, assembly lines, metal work, grinding, cutting and heavy machinery. This workplace environment also rates as run of the most high risk for hearing loss.

Military 

No matter what field of the military you work, army, navy or air force you will be exposed to loud sounds at some point. Gunshots are particularly damaging and obviously combat situations with explosions and firefights cause extreme exposure.

Entertainment 

Musicians and concert goers are at risk from high noise levels. Have you ever noticed ringing in your eras after a concert?, that means you have experienced some noise damage.  This also includes club goers, DJ’s, bar staff and security staff. Venues with closed roofs don’t allow any sound to escape, so can be are particularly harmful.

Farming

Tractors with open windows or no cabs, chainsaws, wood chippers, general farm machinery and even exposure to loud animal sounds like pigs squealing.

Dental workers and Hospital Surgeons

Dentist’s drills, surgeons saws and high noise intensity tools.

Teachers

Kindergarten and preschool teachers can be exposed to regular high pitched noise in enclosed spaces. This can also occur in primary school situations

Airport ground control staff 

This is a particularly dangerous occupation in terms of noise exposure, especially jet engines when taking off and landing.

Fire-fighters and emergency services

Sirens on emergency vehicles, alarms and also the risk of exposure to other loud noise like explosions.

Hairdressing

Exposure to the noise from hairdryers over a period of time also puts these workers at risk of noise exposure 

Other Effects of Noise Pollution

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Stress and Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression and Isolation caused by hearing loss

Hearing Protection and Prevention 

Disposable Foam Earplugs: These are inserted in to the ear canal. They are made in different sizes and lower noise levels by up to around 30 decibels. They are beneficial in most noise exposure situations.

Earmuffs: These fit completely over the ears and also lower noise levels by up to around 30 decibels. These are also beneficial in most noise exposure situations.

If noise exposure is at the high end you can use ‘double’ protection by wearing both earplugs and earmuffs.

Both of these options are readily available and most at risk workplaces provide one or both options for employees. Alternatively hardware stores like Mitre 10 and Bunnings sell hearing protection at very reasonable prices.

Reduce the volume of music: Earbuds amplify sound basically right at the eardrum so it’s always better to use over the ear headphones while also being conscious of the volume. Listening to music with earbuds or headphones should never be used to block out other unwanted sounds.

Be aware: Noise hazards are everywhere so take notice of your environment and take steps to avoid exposure. For example, by crossing the road away from a construction site and wearing hearing protection when mowing the lawn.

Hearing Aids 

Noise-induced hearing loss is, unfortunately, permanent. Typically the best treatment for NIHL is hearing aids. Modern technology means hearing aids can be programmed to your individual hearing loss as determined by a hearing test. If you believe you are suffering from hearing loss you can make an appointment with a hearing aid dispenser/professional who can give you a hearing test and fit hearing aids.