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Can you hear me now?

That tagline from the phone company was omnipresent a few years ago and still gets some play now and again. But noise in the workplace is a serious thing. OSHA’s (the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration) permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 90 decibels (dBA) in an eight-hour day is equivalent to a “Boiler Room” and 10 dBA greater than a Freight Train 100’ away. But, is that level of noise too much? The European Union has been recommending much lower exposure levels based on studies that show that millions of Europeans have suffered irreversible hearing loss.

I read the other day that noise contamination is the new smoking (I thought sitting was the new smoking). This observation was based on data that shows hearing loss is pervasive in our society and is, much like smoking, preventable. We are frequently asked to conduct noise surveys in the workplace by companies that want to proactively help their employees prevent hearing loss. You too can do this on your own with your smartphone. I have an app that I like to pull out when we are in a high noise area so that I can confirm what my ears are telling me – “it’s too noisy here”!

When we find noise levels in the workplace are too high, there are several recommendations that we can make to reduce the worker’s exposure to noise. You may want to use some of these ideas at home or in your workplace. My go-to solution is ear plugs. I usually have a set with me (yes, I know that’s a little weird) when I know I’ll be in environments that might expose me to those 100+ dBA events (for instance, in an airplane it can reach 105 dBA during take off and landing, so you’ll see me with my noise cancelling headphones on). They also make noise cancelling window coverings for us urban dwellers so that you can block out street noise (this is one of the EU’s big concerns).

Make sure to take care of your hearing by limiting your noise exposure, both at work and at home. You’ll want to be able to answer in the affirmative next time someone says, “can you hear me now”?  For more information on noise contamination, please contact Lori Siegelman.

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