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Our ears play a critical role in our daily lives. If you stop for a moment and listen, you will notice all the sounds around you, those that are near and obvious, and those that are far. At all times we are hearing and interpreting these sounds whether we are aware of it or not. We use this information in our daily lives. But what would happen if all those sounds went away? Hearing loss is a common occurrence for individuals exposed to loud noises in their daily lives and even short exposures can lead to a lifetime of loss. Protecting your ears is an important part of working safely.
Ears & Sound
As sound waves enter your outer ear, vibrations impact the ear drum and are then sent to the middle ear. Three bones in the middle ear, the incus (anvil) the stapes (stirrup) and the malleus (hammer) transmit the sound to the inner ear. Once in the inner ear, small hairs vibrate with the sound waves and translate them into the sounds we recognize. Hearing loss occurs when these hairs become damaged and can no longer intrepid the vibrations. What damages these hairs? Both loud noises and long term exposure to noises. There are Permissible Exposure Limits which define how long an individual can be exposed to different decibel levels.
Exposure & Controls
No matter what profession you are in, you will be exposed to sounds through out your day. But how can you control your exposure to the sounds? Both administrative and engineering controls should be implemented to reduce your exposure. Wearing hearing protection, either in the form of ear plugs or muffs is one of the easiest and most effective way to protect yourself. Having guards on loud machines can also help, as well as operating the machines when fewer workers are around. You can also limit the amount of time you are exposed. Work with your supervisor to identify areas where you can reduce noise exposure. Inspect your equipment and see if different equipment might be better, or, consider using different materials or processes.
All employees should be provided with hearing protection. Either plugs, muffs, or both. Any employee working in an environment where the should level exceeds 85 decibels should be wearing this protection. It is important to fit test all PPE to make sure it fits snugly and securely and hasn't been compromised from previous use. If you work in an environment that exceeds 85 decibels for over a 6 month period, you should have a baseline test, called an audio gram, performed to monitor your hearing and potential loss.