Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety
IN THIS ISSUE: Hearing Loss in Older Workers
As we age, it is normal for people to lose some of their hearing. This natural process is called Presbycusis, asensorineural hearing loss due to aging. Approximately 30 to 35 percent of the adult population above 65 has a hearing loss. The loss associated with presbycusis is usually greater for “high-pitched sounds”. It may make it more difficult to hear conversations in noise, speech may seem muffled or unclear, and one may have to ask people to repeat themselves or turn the TV louder to hear it. Presbycusis arises from changes in the inner ear of a person but can also result from changes in the middle ear or from complex changes along the nerve pathways leading to the brain. It can occur in both ears at an equal level. Because the process of loss is gradual, people who have presbycusis may not realize that their hearing is diminished.
Presbycusis is not the only cause of hearing loss and in an occupational setting and it is important to evaluate all factors. Other causes of hearing loss may include heredity, exposure to noise, explosions or extreme impacts, diseases such as ear infections and meningitis, trauma, and certain medicines and chemicals (ototoxins).
OSHA considers age when determining a Standard Threshold Shift (STS). An STS is a change in hearing threshold relative to the baseline audiogram of an average of 10 dB or more at 2000, 3000, and 4000 Hertz in either ear.It is considered an injury and is recorded on the annual log of injuries and illnesses.
The National Institute of Health provides these suggestions when talking with someone with a hearing loss:
- Find a quiet place to talk to help reduce background noise, especially in restaurants and at social gatherings.
- Sit or stand in corners to reduce background noise.
- Stand in good lighting and use facial expressions or gestures to give clues.
- Face the person and speak clearly. Maintain eye contact.
- Don’t shout. Try to speak slowly, but naturally.
- Speak at a reasonable speed.
- Do not cover your mouth, eat, or chew gum while speaking.
- Repeat yourself if necessary, using different words.
- Try to make sure only one person talks at a time.
- Be patient. Stay positive and relaxed.
- Ask how you can help.
Occupational hearing loss is one of the most predominant illnesses in workers. It can have a significant effect on the quality of life for those affected. Persons who have hearing loss may improve their hearing with hearing aids or other devices, but it is never a substitute for good hearing. It is important that employers and workers know the factors that cause hearing loss and how to best control them, both on and off the job.
OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.
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