May 14, 2019 / Mark Ames

Something Worth Hearing

My father is losing his hearing. It’s become a bit of a running joke with my family. For years he worked at a circuit board processing facility where he was surrounded by loud noise for much of his shift. I know because I often visited him as a child, and can still remember the sound, as well as the slightly acrid smell of chemicals that pervaded his workspace and would seep into his uniform. After my father was laid off and the plant closed, he took a job as a sanitation worker at a local snack and beverage manufacturing plant, where he remained for several years, often working the night shift, before finally landing a job performing water treatment for my hometown, where he works to this day.

It’s a fact that my father is losing his hearing and lives with tinnitus, but what’s more challenging is parsing out the “why.” Each year, approximately 22 million Americans are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work, and while we can’t say whether my father’s hearing loss is the result of his work, his age, or something else, we do know that approximately 24 percent of the hearing difficulty among U.S. workers is caused by occupational exposures.

With so many people afflicted by something that’s permanent yet preventable, this might seem like an easy problem to solve. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Part of the challenge is that many of us expect to lose our hearing as we get older. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, since one in three people in the U.S. between the ages of 65 and 74 have age-related hearing loss, and approximately half of those 75 or older have at least some difficulty hearing. Chances are that we all know someone whose hearing isn’t what it used to be—maybe it’s even us.

While we may not be able to control all the factors that contribute to hearing loss, we can help workers reduce their risks and perhaps delay or even prevent the loss of one of our human senses. Changing the tenor of the conversation from one of resigned acceptance to one of prevention is not easy, but AIHA is tackling this challenge, and we are far from alone.

In 2018, AIHA became one of the founding members of the 85-3 Hearing Protection Coalition. The goal of the Coalition is to encourage policymakers to align with NIOSH’s Recommended Exposure Limit for occupational noise of 85 dBA as an 8-hour time-weighted average, using a 3-dB exchange rate. Much of the Coalition’s efforts focus on the state level, but important work is also being conducted at the federal level, helping policymakers recognize occupational hearing loss as a problem, and supporting research and outreach efforts by agencies.

Curious about how you can help? Send me an email and I’ll be happy to provide you with in-depth information on our activities and connect you with other volunteers who are taking action, including AIHA’s Noise Committee. Through our collective efforts we are making a difference. Join us on our journey to protect hearing today!

Mark Ames

Mark Ames is AIHA’s director of Government Relations.


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