It’s typical to think of hearing loss as an unavoidable problem connected with aging, or, more recently, as a consequence of the younger generation’s regular use of iPods. But the numbers suggest that the larger problem may be direct exposure to loud noise at work.

In the United States, 22 million workers are exposed to potentially unsafe noise, and an estimated 242 million dollars is spent on a yearly basis on worker’s compensation claims for hearing loss, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

What’s more is that higher rates of hearing loss are found in increasingly noisier professions, revealing that being exposed to sounds over a certain level progressively enhances your risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss later in your life.

How loud is too loud?

A study performed by Audicus discovered that, of those who were not subjected to work-related noise levels over 90 decibels, only 9 percent struggled with noise-induced hearing loss at age 50. In contrast, construction workers, who are consistently subjected to sound levels as high as 120 decibels, suffered from noise-induced hearing loss at the age of 50 at a rate of 60 percent!

It appears that 85-90 decibels is the limit for safe sound volumes, but that’s not the whole story: the decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear. That means that as you raise the decibel level by 3 decibels, the sound level nearly doubles. So 160 decibels is not twice as loud as 80—it’s about 26 times louder!

Here’s how it breaks down: a decibel level of 0 is barely detectable, regular conversation is about 60 decibels, the threshold for safety is 85-90 decibels, and the death of hearing tissue occurs at 180 decibels. It’s the region between 85 and 180 that leads to noise-induced hearing loss, and as would be imagined, the jobs with progressively louder decibel levels have increasingly higher rates of hearing loss.

Hearing loss by occupation

As the following table displays, as the decibel levels associated with each occupation increase, hearing loss rates increase as well:

OccupationDecibel levelIncidence rates of hearing loss at age 50
No noise exposureLess than 90 decibels9%
Manufacturing105 decibels30%
Farming105 decibels36%
Construction120 decibels60%

Any profession with decibel levels above 90 places its workers at risk for hearing loss, and this includes rock musicians (110 dB), Formula One drivers (135 dB), airport ground staff (140 dB), nightclub staff (110 dB), and shooting range marshalls (140 dB). In every instance, as the decibel level increases, the risk of noise-induced hearing loss rises with it.

Protecting your hearing

A recent US study on the prevalence of hearing loss in farming discovered that 92 percent of the US farmers surveyed were subjected to unsafe noise levels, but that only 44 percent reported to use hearing protection accessories on a daily basis. Factory workers, in comparison, tend to stick to to more rigid hearing protection regulations, which may explain why the frequency of hearing loss is moderately lower in manufacturing than it is in farming, despite subjection to near equivalent decibel levels.

All of the data point to one thing: the significance of protecting your hearing. If you work in a high-risk job, you need to take the right protective measures. If staying away from the noise is not an option, you need to find ways to reduce the noise levels (best achieved with custom earplugs), in addition to ensuring that you take routine rest breaks for your ears. Controlling both the sound volume and exposure time will lower your chances of acquiring noise-induced hearing loss.

If you would like to consider a hearing protection plan for your personal circumstances or job, give us a call. As hearing specialists, we can provide tailor-made solutions to best protect your hearing at work. We also offer custom earplugs that, in addition to protecting your hearing, are comfortable to wear and can preserve the natural quality of sound (as opposed to the muffled sound you hear with foam earplugs).