A study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2016 found that construction is the second leading industry for worker hearing loss, after only mining. The study, Hearing Impairment Among Noise-Exposed Workers, was conducted over 10 years, tracking hearing impairment in more than 1.4 million noise-exposed American workers in nine industry segments.
In mining, 17 percent of workers were found to have suffered at least some hearing impairment, with 3 percent having experienced moderate or worse hearing loss. Construction was just barely behind mining, with 16 percent of workers suffering some hearing impairment and 3 percent experiencing moderate or worse hearing loss. The manufacturing industry came in third place, with 14 percent of workers having some hearing impairment and 2 percent having moderate or worse.
This is why preventing hearing loss in construction workers is such an important safety and quality-of-life issue.
Why Construction Workers Experience Hearing Loss
A number of factors contribute to the gradual development of hearing impairment in construction workers. Some of the most significant include:
- The high volume and consistent presence of noise at job sites
- Not using proper equipment to protect hearing; hearing protection is a too-often overlooked type of personal protective equipment
- Lack of regulations requiring hearing protection
- Varying standards of allowable noise levels
- Inadequate noise control on some heavy equipment
- Lack of awareness about dangers on the part of management
- Lack of education/training about dangers and hearing care
- Lack of consistent care from hearing professionals
Preventing Hearing Loss in Construction Workers
Here are some important tips to help you or your crew protect against hearing impairment resulting from exposure to continuous and/or loud noises at the construction site:
- Use ear plugs when it’s safe to do so; at other times, use more sophisticated devices that filter out background noise while letting the wearer hear conversations and other important sounds
- Monitor noise levels and always use protective equipment when levels reach 85 decibels; while hearing protection isn’t mandatory below this level, it’s still advisable
- Ensure you/all workers are trained to properly use equipment for hearing protection
- Erect sound barriers—even simple plywood ones—to isolate loud ongoing noise and protect the rest of the site’s crew
- Frequently rotate workers out of the noisiest zones
- Provide regular breaks from loud/continuous noise
- Keep noise sources as far away from as many workers as possible with extension cords, extra welding leads, air hoses, etc.
- Face generators and other loud equipment away from workers
- Ensure tools and machines receive regular inspections and maintenance
- Look into retrofitting tools and heavy equipment with mufflers or other sound dampening devices that don’t have any
- Invest in modern tools and heavy equipment with cutting-edge noise dampening technology