Importance of Hearing Protection in the Manufacturing Industry

Hrvoje Š.
8 Min Read

The manufacturing industry is the backbone of numerous economies, driving progress and innovation. However, this industry comes with an unseen and often ignored occupational hazard – NIHL or noise-induced hearing loss. 

For the uninitiated, NIHL is an irreversible, permanent condition that significantly impacts the lives of millions of workers engaged in the manufacturing industry. This condition is a result of prolonged exposure to dangerous levels of noise due to the manufacturing sector heavily relying on the operation of heavy equipment and machinery. 

Therefore, it is paramount to give importance to hearing protection in the manufacturing industry. This blog delves into the risks of NIHL, the importance of hearing protection and the different steps that can be taken to protect hearing in manufacturing. 

What Are The Risks Of NIHL?

The manufacturing industry is a noisy workplace that is notorious for causing excessive noise pollution. Tools, machinery, equipment operation, and even communication add to the constant soundscape that typically exceeds safe levels. 

The NIOSH identifies 85 dB as the threshold for continuous exposure over an 8-hour workday. As you may have guessed, common manufacturing processes surpass this limit and by a huge margin. 

For example, workers in the metal fabrication industry are exposed to 90-110 dB of noise, and those in the woodworking industry are exposed to 85-100 dB. Workers engaged in the process of injection molding operate loud equipment that exceeds 90 dB. 

These are a few examples, and specific noise levels within a manufacturing facility can vary depending on the production processes, machinery, and layout. 

However, it is evident that many manufacturing workplaces expose workers to harmful noise levels throughout the workday. This consistent exposure affects their hearing health, and most workers end up permanently losing their hearing. 

What Are The Consequences Of NIHL?

As already mentioned, NIHL is a progressive and irreversible condition. Continuous exposure to loud noise levels damages the delicate hair cells within the inner ear. This results in hindering their ability to transmit sound signals to the brain. Hence, this leads to:

  • Gradual loss of hearing 
  • Difficulty in understanding speech, especially in noisy environments
  • Tinnitus (this condition is characterized by a constant buzzing, ringing, or whistling sound in the ears)
  • Hyperacusis (increased sensitivity to loud noises)

Do you know the worst part of NIHL? It is the fact that you are not only losing your ability to hear but also your ability to work to your full potential and maintain a healthy social life. If you cannot hear properly, you will find it extremely difficult to understand the warnings, the importance of the machinery, and the sound of the equipment. Even if you haven’t lost your ability to hear, but you have contracted tinnitus, it will result in decreased concentration and fatigue. 

Therefore, you must prioritize hearing protection if you are in the manufacturing industry. The options for hearing protection devices are diverse, from earmuffs and customized earplugs to technologically advanced devices like Bluetooth hearing protection. You won’t face difficulty finding the appropriate hearing protection for your needs. If you need more reassurance, the next section covers the importance of hearing protection. 

What Is The Importance Of Hearing Protection In The Manufacturing Industry?

Given the risks associated with noise-induced hearing loss, prioritizing proactive hearing protection is critical for workers in the manufacturing industry. The reasons are given below:

  • Protecting employee health and overall well-being – The implementation of hearing conservation programs helps protect workers’ hearing and prevent the debilitating effects of noise-induced hearing loss. 
  • Decreases the risk of hearing loss claims – Loss of hearing results in costly compensation claims by companies. So, prioritizing hearing protection saves the company from paying thousands of dollars in compensation claims. 
  • Elevates safety and communication – Hearing protection ensures workers can communicate clearly in noisy environments. This is essential for fostering teamwork and avoiding safety hazards. 
  • Enhances productivity and worker morale – Workers feel focused, comfortable, and productive knowing that their employers take hearing protection seriously. This results in increased efficiency, higher job satisfaction, and reduced absenteeism. 

What Are The Proactive Hearing Protection Strategies In Manufacturing?

One of the strategies is wearing hearing protection devices and that has already been mentioned above. Just to reiterate, there are earplugs, earmuffs, and other technologically advanced hearing protection devices at your disposal. Each offers different levels of protection, and the fit can be adjusted to meet your requirements. It is best to choose a device after carefully going through the NRR rating of the device and knowing the noise levels you are exposed to throughout your workday. The next consideration is the comfort and fit of the hearing protection device. Make sure you can wear the device throughout your workday without any discomfort, and if you have to use other equipment like a helmet, check if the hearing protection device is compatible. 

But this is just one of the things you can do to ensure your ears are not exposed to dangerous noise levels. The other steps that are popular in the manufacturing industry are:

  • Engineering controls – Workers in the manufacturing industry can talk to their supervisors and those in the upper management to implement quieter, newer machinery and equipment. This is going to reduce noise levels at the source. Also, the machinery and equipment must be placed strategically so that there are clear noise zones. Maintenance of the equipment and machinery is also essential as it ensures smooth operation. 
  • Administrative controls – Administrative controls mean the implementation of hearing conservation programs, which include employee education and training, periodic noise assessments, etc. Employers can also carry out audiometric testing to monitor the hearing health of the workers over time. 

The Bottom Line

In the manufacturing industry, prioritizing hearing protection helps both employees and employers. Employees are saved from the risks and threats of noise-induced hearing loss, and employers save thousands of dollars by avoiding worker compensation claims. Also, hearing protection fosters a productive and safer work environment. 

Are you a part of the manufacturing industry? What steps are your company taking to implement hearing protection strategies? Are you taking any steps yourself to protect your sense of hearing? Leave a comment below to help spread awareness. 

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