Yes, you read that right. What happens if you don’t protect your ears on the job site? Hearing loss is not something that can be found again. Once it starts going, it doesn’t come back… it’s hearing GONE.
It’s a shame, too, since hearing loss has been one of the most common and PREVENTABLE occupational health concerns for decades. Most hearing loss can be prevented by wearing ear muffs or ear plugs, but sadly this easy-to-do precaution is too often overlooked or unenforced in the construction industry.
Hearing loss is an easy, gradual, and painless change, so it never seems important at the time precautions are needed.
When should you use hearing protection?
It comes down to decibels and duration. Damage begins at the 80-90 decibel level, a sound level equivalent to running a lawnmower or leaf blower. If you’re mowing lawns all day, that 8 hours can cause temporary “haziness” or hearing loss, but your hearing might not recover at all if you’re mowing lawns as your full-time job without protecting your ears day after day.
Now consider the lawn mower as your baseline and compare that example to all the sounds on a construction job site. Higher sound levels on a repeated basis (use of nail guns) can cause hearing loss faster. Hearing a sudden, intense noise just one time might instantly affect your hearing. The higher the sound level or longer it persists is what determines how quickly or severely you lose your hearing. As you identify what tasks are being done for the day, be sure to wear earplugs or ear muffs during times when sound levels are expected to be high. It’s that simple.
OSHA says you might already have hearing loss if:
- You have a hard time hearing people in groups or meetings or if there is background noise.
- People sound as if they are mumbling.
- You have to ask people to repeat what they say.
- You have trouble understanding others on the telephone.
- You have ringing or noises in one or both ears.
- You have difficulty hearing backup alarms or a cell phone ringing.
If you’re unsure what the sound levels are on your job site and don’t have a sound level meter, here is a test you can do on your own… Stand about 3 feet from a co-worker, and if you can’t hear them clearly or you have to raise your voice for them to hear you, the sound level is likely too high not to be wearing earplugs while you work.
Helmkamp superintendents are at our front lines, ensuring everyone is safe. This includes looking out for the hearing of others. Recent daily safety audits included comments from Helmkamp superintendents, such as:
- Ironworker cutting metal insulated panels without hearing protection was stopped and issued ear plugs.
- Laborers were not wearing hearing protection while running jackhammers. Asked them to put their earplugs back in.
- Offered earplugs to the hospital staff and patients in close proximity to our work area while loud noise was occurring.
These comments are shared weekly with our entire team and serve as safety reminders to superintendents on other job sites to look out for similar situations where protecting the hearing of others can be better enforced.
Hearing GONE can be prevented! Protect your ears today and every day.
October is National Protect Your Hearing Month.