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Hearing Loss: The Not So Silent Epidemic

One in ten Americans has a hearing loss that affects their ability to understand normal speech. Excessive noise exposure is the most common cause of hearing loss.

Unfortunately, many of those Americans are exposed to excessive noise while on the job. Exposure to excessive noise is not limited to any particular occupation. Assembly line workers, heavy machine operators, construction workers around traffic, farm workers around tractors or grain dryers, and lumbermen using chain saws, are among those exposed to excessive levels of noise.

While people’s sensitivity to noise can differ, as a general rule, noise may damage your hearing if you have to shout over background noise to make yourself heard. Early warning signs of hearing loss caused by excessive noise are ringing in the ears, difficulty understanding what people say, failing to hear background noises such as telephones or doorbells, or having to turn up volume to hear the radio or television.

When noise is too loud, it begins to kill nerve endings in the inner ear. These nerve endings are what allow you to hear. As the exposure time to loud noise increases, more and more nerve endings are destroyed. As the number of nerve endings decreases, so does your hearing. There is no medical way to restore life to a dead nerve ending. Therefore, nerve damage and hearing loss are permanent.

Employers have a non-delegable duty to their employees to provide them with a reasonably safe work environment. This obligation includes reducing unsafe noise levels in the workplace or providing hearing protection for workers.

In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has special rules in place for workers exposed to noisy environments. These rules include requiring annual hearing tests and limiting the amount of time an employee can be exposed to excessive noise without hearing protection.

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