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Out of all the physical ailments that can afflict construction workers, hearing loss is perhaps one of the best-known and least-addressed.
But if your employees can’t hear, that puts the entire job site at risk.
It starts with protecting their hearing. Here are a few essential tips for construction ear protection you should be following.
First things first: if you want to protect your employees’ hearing, you have to know the current state of their hearing.
Many construction unions require their members to get regular hearing checks. You know which unions you work with–check and see their standards for member hearing checks.
If these unions don’t require hearing checks, sponsor employees to get them. Even if they do require them, sponsoring your employees to get their hearing check is a good way to make sure they stay up-to-date on hearing tests.
Ideally, your employees should get their hearing checked at least a few times per year. It’s inexpensive, it’s easy, and it’s the single best way to spot hearing loss before it becomes severe enough to significantly impact your employee’s quality of life.
But hearing tests aren’t enough. You have to take active steps to prevent hearing loss before it takes effect.
For that, you’re going to need personal protective equipment (PPE). Plus, OSHA requires employers to provide PPE to workers.
At a minimum, you should provide your employees with industrial-grade earplugs. Regular earplugs aren’t strong enough to protect the ears against the noise level found on a construction site. As a rule, the most effective earplugs are custom-made to fit the worker’s ear. Encourage your workers to get fitted for custom earplugs, but keep reusable ones on hand just in case.
You should also invest in plenty of protective earmuffs. These are actually better than earplugs because they protect the entire ear.
And if your employees like to listen to music while working, encourage them to buy noise-canceling headphones. That way, they don’t have to crank up their music to tune out background noise.
You should also take the time to have a workplace safety trainer talk to your employees about hearing loss.
For example, employees should know that the eardrum is extremely delicate. Sticking anything in your ear (including cotton swabs to clean your ears) can actually push earwax further into the ear. Your ears should only be cleaned with a liquid solution, preferably by an ear doctor.
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about your employees’ ears. But the truth is, hearing loss is a complex phenomenon that relates to the entire body.
For example, did you know that smoking has a strong connection to sensorineural hearing loss?
For one thing, smoking constricts the blood vessels, which limits the flow of blood through the body. When you smoke, you’re quite literally depriving your cells of sufficient oxygen.
Then, there’s the damage done to your throat.
When you inhale nicotine, it has to pass through your throat to your lungs. What most people don’t realize is that the smoke can actually affect your ears this way. That’s because your middle ear is actually linked to the back of your nose through the Eustachian tube.
This helps equalize pressure in the middle ear, which allows you to keep your balance. The nose, of course, is also connected to the throat.
So, if you smoke, you’re inflicting direct harm on your middle ear.
Construction ear protection is just one small component of safety on a job site. Subscribe to our blog for more resources on how to improve your entire workplace health and safety culture.
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