When considering construction worker injuries many people think of examples of injuries caused by physical accidents from impacts such as a fall from a ladder or scaffolding. However, there are many other types of injuries that occur in addition to those that occur from strictly physical accidents. In fact, one of the most common injuries suffered by construction workers is hearing loss.
Construction workers are often exposed to loud noises which make them especially susceptible to the loss of hearing. According to Audicus, there are around 30 million workers in the U.S. who are exposed to hazardous noise on the job.
Hazardous noise is defined as noise which exceeds 90bD (decibels) for an extended period of time. There is a 60 percent chance of construction workers losing their hearing if they are exposed to hazardous noise throughout their career.
Compared to a 9 percent risk factor for no noise exposure, and a 30 percent risk in manufacturing, construction, along with mining, remain the top two high-risk professions in industry.
The Main Causes of Hearing Loss on a Job Site
The most common cause of hearing loss on a job site is intuitive: a lack of use of protective hearing equipment, which is required by law. There may be one of two common reasons why construction workers do not use hearing equipment.
First, the employer may not make them aware of the risks of working in an environment with hazardous noise and may not provide them with appropriate hearing protection. Secondly, the worker may choose not to wear protective hearing equipment.
A third, often overlooked, reason is that existing hearing protection may be insufficient. When hearing protection does not prevent hazardous noise from reaching the ear, or fails to do so effectively, the worker may be unknowingly exposed to excessive noise.
Lack of equipment to control noise can be a contributing factor to hearing loss as can failing to take breaks when working in an area containing hazardous noise. Finally, a lack of training about how to wear hearing protection can contribute to the risk of overexposure and hearing loss.
Where Hearing Loss Occurs?
Hearing loss typically occurs in areas where noise levels exceed 90bD – the established noise level that is deemed “hazardous” to workers’ hearing. Job sites where workers are exposed to, or must use or interact with, heavy machinery, jackhammers, sledgehammers, nail and bolt drivers, electrical saws, and constant noise from demolition pose the most serious risk.
When Hearing Loss Occurs?
Hearing loss usually does not occur upon a single overexposure, although if the noise is loud enough, it may permanently or temporarily cause hearing loss. Permanent hearing loss occurs over time when repeated overexposure is experienced by the worker. Workers who reach the age of 50, and have been working in construction for at least several years prior, are the most likely to experience hearing loss.
Workers who start young, and enjoy a lifetime of work in construction, may be at an increased risk for hearing loss, particularly if their exposure levels exceeded the maximum threshold during most workdays.