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Loud Noise at Work: It’s About More than Your Hearing

An estimated 25 percent of U.S. labor workers are exposed to loud noise levels at work that can cause permanent hearing loss, as well as higher risks for cardiovascular disease.

Workplace Dangers of Loud Noise Exposure

The construction industry has one of the highest rates of hazardous noise exposure among American workers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 51 percent of construction workers suffer hearing damage from noise levels that are loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage and complete hearing loss.

Although exposure to loud noise is a known cause of hearing damage, it’s also linked to higher risks for cardiovascular disease. Health research shows that hazardous noise exposure contributes to high blood pressure and high cholesterol. According to researchers, regular exposure to high noise levels activates the body’s stress response or “fight or flight” reaction. When this happens, there’s a spike in hormones and adrenaline that causes blood pressure and cholesterol levels to rise and the heart to pump faster. Workers exposed to extreme noise levels on a daily basis stay in a heightened state of alert. Over time, this can damage the vascular system and increase risks for heart attacks and strokes.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 41 million workers suffer from hazardous noise exposure. In a 2014 NIOSH study, findings showed a definite link between loud noise exposure and hearing and heart problems. In studied workers, 12 percent experienced hearing problems, 24 percent showed high blood pressure, and 28 percent showed high cholesterol levels. Workers with the highest hazardous noise exposure include miners – 61 percent, construction workers – 51 percent, and manufacturing workers – 47 percent.

OSHA requires hearing protection for all workers exposed to noise levels of 85 dBA or more. It’s shown that exposure to 85 dBA for eight hours or more can cause permanent hearing loss. If exposure is at 100 dBA, workers are limited to 15 minutes of exposure per day. OSHA and NIOSH have strict regulations for hazardous noise exposure to prevent injury to workers. Employers who do not follow safety regulations or provide workers with regulated protective hearing equipment face serious federal safety violations.

OSHA Hearing Conservation Programs require all employers to properly train workers in hazardous noise exposure, measure workplace noise levels, provide free hearing protection equipment, and provide free annual hearing exams to exposed workers.

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