Noise Levels and The Threat of Hearing Loss


Can you list all the workplace safety hazards you and your team come in contact with on a daily basis? Chances are you immediately detail the sharp tools, the heavy steel beams or even something like a speeding forklift. What you may not have considered is the safety and health risks related to your hearing.

If you did, you are a step ahead of most when it comes to safety. The fact of the matter is, hearing safety is one of the most overlooked threats in the workplace. OSHA has found that over the last 25 years, noise-related hearing loss is one of the most significant health and safety issues. Since 2004 alone,125,000 workers have reported permanent hearing loss.

To understand the severity, you must first understand how the experts measure noise.

On a typical noise chart you’ll see the abbreviation “dB” for decibels. Now while these numbers are important to know, we must understand what the numbers mean…

According to a study by the UK Health and Safety Executive, the noise limits which should not be exceeded are 87 dB for daily exposure (ongoing noisy work environment) and 140 dB for peak exposure (one off peak in noise).

The challenge in this is that many of our daily jobs consistently fall in the range of threatening damage.

Let’s take a look at three of the industries Sonetics wireless communication protects, and noise levels the average person is exposed to on the job.

Agriculture Noise Levels and Hearing Safety

Take a look at the chart below. While some occupational tasks are more evidently dangerous to hearing than others, you may be surprised at what can actually create hearing damage for agriculture professionals. Notice tasks such as riding in a tractor cab create enough exposure to cause permanent hearing damage. Putting out 90 dB, a tractor cab can contribute to long-term hearing loss when operated for a full day of work.

Chart comparing level of noise (in decibels) for various agricultural activities. Noise sources include shotgun (peak nosie) 150 dB, hand grinding of metal 108 dB, unsilcened air discharge 105 dB, chainsaw/pig house at feeding time 100 dB, circular saw 100 dB, petrol-driven grass mower 96 dB, tractor cab (maximum heavy load) 90 dB, electric drill 87 dB, modern tractor Q-cab 80 dB.

And if you’re a hog farmer, things could be even worse. Feeding time reaches a decibel level of 100. A farmer tasked with the daily duty of feeding hogs is consistently exposed to these high decibel levels.

Agriculture is essential to our livelihood. While typical equipment is used without much thought to the potential consequences of hearing damage and loss, it’s important for every agricultural professional to be equipped with the greatest hearing protection possible.

Agriculture isn’t the only industry at heavy risk. Let’s take a look at another industry that is more commonly associated with loud noise – aviation.

Aviation and the Need for Headset Hearing Protection

Aviation relies heavily on efficient communication. Professionals and hobbyists alike must use headsets to communicate with individuals on the ground as well as in the sky. Many aviation professionals protect their hearing to some degree while using headsets for their communication efficiency. Unfortunately, many fail to put on their headsets until they are settled in the cockpit or already out on the tarmac. While this still fulfills the need for communication, it readily exposes individuals to noise threats.

Let’s break down some of the common aviation exposure levels and what risks they create.

TUG driver wearing Sonetics Wireless Headsets during pusback of a commercial airliner.

According to a study by Purdue University, standing within 25 meters of a jet takeoff exposes you to 150 dB level. This number is well in the range of rupturing eardrums and causing permanent damage. Among the jet takeoff decimal output, Purdue further found the following interesting noise registration levels:

  • Aircraft carrier deck – 140 dB
  • Jet flyover at 1000 feet – 103 dB
  • Bell J-2A helicopter at 100 ft – 100 dB
    Boeing 737 or DC-9 aircraft at one nautical mile (6080 ft) before landing – 97 dB

Aviation professionals can benefit two-fold with headset communication and hearing protection devices. Clearer communication obviously results in less error and fewer performance safety hazards. In addition, a headset can lower sound exposure for ongoing hearing protection.

Construction Hearing Protection and Noise Levels

The construction field is exposed consistently to a variety of hearing loss threats. The diverse amount of machinery provides an inconsistent and often multiplicative level of noise exposure. Recently the US Department of Transportation released a study that outlines the noise levels of the most common machinery found on construction job sites.

Directional drilling crew communicating with Sonetics Wireless Headsets during a sewer line replacement.

What often goes unnoticed in construction areas is the fact that noise threats are cumulative. Where an agricultural professional may only have a tractor running, construction crews often run multiple machines at once, magnifying the noise output.

Take a new home build. On a typical day, a concrete mixer is pouring the driveway, contributing 85 dB. While the concrete mixer is on, so is an air compressor that contributes another 80 dB. And while concrete is being poured and the air compressor is on, another team member is using a concrete saw that contributes 90 dB. The entire work area is competing with a jet engine in terms of hearing damage.

And it’s not just “typical” tools that produce dangerous sound levels. Take a look at some of the other potential culprits:

  • Average equipment with 5hp or less – 50 dB
  • Chain Saw – 85 dB
  • Auger Drill Rig – 85 dB
  • Dozer – 80 dB
  • Dump Truck – 84 dB
  • Generator – 82 dB
  • Jackhammer – 85 dB

Construction workers face an extremely high risk for hearing loss. Crews can protect their hearing with two way communication and noise reduction headsets, like the ones offered by Sonetics.

As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated $242 million is spent annually on workers compensation for hearing loss. However, it’s not only on the work site where hearing damage occurs. A growing trend in hearing damage comes from exposure during recreational activities.

Dr. Michael Stewart, professor of Audiology at Central Michigan University, reports that smaller rifles such as a .22 caliber can produce noise output around 140 dB. Additionally, larger rifles can reach the 175 dB mark. These measurements drastically increase when individuals are in a closed area, such as a firing range. Stewart explains that a person may sustain permanent hearing loss with only one shot of either sized rifle under the right conditions.

Hearing damage isn’t limited to just rifles and shooting sports. What about a recreational sport like snowmobiling? Snowmobile noise levels have improved over the years, but their output still poses a serious threat of hearing loss.

The following table was created by the National Park Service. Their study was designed to understand the ongoing impact of noise exposure from snowmobiles. They tested various vehicle types and were able to gather a range of statistical data. Interestingly, this study focused on inactive participants; people who, as passive observers, were often not protecting their hearing. The noise measurements were taken from approximately 50 feet away from passing vehicles.

National Park Service table detailing noise exposure during various snowmobile activities.
Source: National Park Service

As you can see above, noise levels reached above 80 dB in several instances. The test was conducted running only one vehicle at a time. A strong inference can be made that with multiple snowmobile vehicles, dangerous noise levels would only increase, thus jeopardizing any individual’s hearing. Clearly, both participants and spectators need to invest in hearing protection for use while snowmobiling.

Hearing loss is a serious issue in health and safety. Too often, we take for granted our hearing and undertake actions without the consideration of consequence. Whether it be during recreational events or in the workplace, being proactive on hearing safety will leave you and your team better off in the long run. Sonetics products create a twofold win for workplace safety:

  1. Sonetics headsets reduce noise threats like those outlined above
  2. Sonetics Wireless Headsets provide two way communication creating a safer, less hazardous workplace.

We’ll continue to write about different areas of hearing loss risk and how you can take the appropriate measures to keep everyone safe!

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