The Importance of Ear Protection in the Workplace

The importance of effective ear protection has only been recognised in the last few decades, yet noise has steadily become the leading cause of premature hearing loss since the industrial revolution. We have all experienced a noisy environment at some time even if we have never actually worked in one. A relatively brief exposure can leave one struggling to hear for a while, quite apart from the feeling of confusion that may be experienced by some.

In the past, the employees who worked on a typical factory assembly line, surrounded by machines, would have claimed that they soon adjusted to the noise and that, after a while, they no longer noticed it. However, while the nose may adjust to the stench of an abattoir with no long-term effect on its sensory mechanism, the ear’s return to normal functionality can take a lot longer. Furthermore, when the exposure is prolonged and repeated, the malfunction is more likely to worsen and, in time, to become permanent – a consequence that is totally avoidable given adequate ear protection.

In the light of research findings that established the correlation between acoustic shock and deafness, many governments have since introduced stringent health and safety regulations with which employers are obliged, in law, to comply. However, while those employed in noisy environments such as factories and airports can normally be seen wearing specially-designed ear defenders, noise still remains a leading cause of deafness.

The fact is that the risk is not confined to the workplace and to workers, but that the public is constantly exposed to the noise of traffic both in the air and on busy highways too. If you happen to live close to either, there is no doubt that your risk of hearing loss is significantly higher despite efforts by councils and governments to enforce noise abatement controls. In such cases, one might consider installing double glazed windows as a means of indoor ear protection but nobody wants to wear earmuffs at a braai.

So far we have discussed the effects of involuntary exposure but there is a large segment of society that is putting itself at risk quite willingly and purely for pleasure. Since the birth of rock in the ‘50s, manufacturers have provided us with the means to reproduce it with crystal clarity and at bone-jarring volumes. Car stereos, iPods and other devices bombard the senses of teenagers and young adults for hours on end and causing an alarming increase of deafness among those in this age group.

The onset of noise-related deafness is gradual. An appointment with one of our specialist audiologists at an Ear Institute clinic could be your child’s best means of ear protection.

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