Hear and Now: The Noise Safety ChallengePosted on by
The Burden of Noise
The idea of being hurt on the job tends to produce images of harrowing trauma, broken bones, and blood. Yet every year for more than a quarter of a century, hearing loss has quietly been among the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the United States. Approximately 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work. In addition to diminishing workers’ quality of life, occupational hearing loss carries a high economic price to society.
An Opportunity to Innovate
Occupational hearing loss is a problem that can be solved. OSHA and NIOSH are inviting businesses, inventors, and entrepreneurs to tackle the problem. Together we have announced Hear and Now: The Noise Safety Challenge. We are encouraging innovation and creative ideas that will make it possible to
- Eliminate a noise source
- Substitute a loud machine or tool for a quieter one (as typified in the NIOSH Buy Quiet initiative)
- Isolate a noise source
- Change work processes to minimize the noise a worker is exposed to
- Create more effective protective equipment
- September 30, 2016: Deadline to submit ideas through Challenges.gov.
- October 7, 2016: Top 10 ideas selected and announced.
- October 27, 2016: The Noise Safety Challenge Final will be held in Washington, D.C.
How Noise Affects Us
Exposure to loud noise damages the tiny little hairs in our inner ear that detect sound. More exposure will result in more damage. The result is permanent hearing loss that cannot be corrected through surgery nor with medicine. Short-term exposure to loud noise can also cause a temporary change in hearing (your ears may feel stuffed up) or a ringing in your ears (tinnitus). These short-term problems may go away within a few minutes or hours after leaving the noisy area. However, repeated exposures to loud noise can lead to permanent tinnitus, hearing loss, or both. Noise-induced hearing loss limits your ability to hear high frequency sounds and understand speech, which seriously impairs your ability to communicate with your loved ones, friends, and associates. Hearing aids may help, but they do not restore your hearing to normal and they add another expense to your household budget.
Noise is considered hazardous when it reaches 85 decibels or higher (approximately the sound level if a person has to raise his or her voice to speak with someone 3 feet away). The enforceable, job-related limit on noise exposure set by OSHA is 90 dBA for all workers for an 8 hour day. NIOSH further recommends that workplace noise should be controlled below a level equivalent to 85 dBA for eight hours to avoid permanent hearing damage.
Hearing loss is pervasive. It is also preventable. By taking part in this challenge, you have the opportunity improve the health and well-being of working men and women across the country. We are excited to hear from you.
Garrett Burnett, MS, MBA, is an advisor in NIOSH’s Research to Practice Office and an assistant coordinator for NIOSH’s Small Business Assistance Program.