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WISE EARS!® At Work!

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WISE EARS!<sup>®</sup> Owl wearing hardhat.

Here are the facts.

  • Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common workplace disorders and the second most self-reported occupational illness or injury.

  • Thirty million workers are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, and 22 million American adults ages 20 to 69 already have it.

  • Forty-four percent of carpenters and 48 percent of plumbers report having a hearing loss.

  • By age 25, the average carpenter has the same hearing as a 50-year-old person who does not work around hazardous noise.


Don't let this be you!

Noise-induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable, but once you have hearing loss, you'll have it for life. Exposure to harmful sounds causes damage to the sensitive structures of the inner ear. These structures can be injured instantly from an intense brief impulse, such as the explosion of a firecracker, or gradually from continuous exposure to noise, such as in a woodworking shop.


How loud is too loud?

WISE EARS!<sup>®</sup> Owl

Are you in an area where you have to raise your voice to talk with someone who is an arm's length away? Are your ears ringing or do sounds seem dull or flat after leaving a noisy place? If so, then you are probably exposed to hazardous noise. The degree of a hearing hazard is related to both the level of the noise and the duration of the exposure. Sound is measured in decibels (dB). Prolonged (long or repeated) exposure to noise at or above 85 dB can cause hearing loss. A normal conversation takes place at about 60 dB. A hand drill measures 98 dB, a spray painter 105 dB, a hammer drill 114 dB, and a pneumatic percussion drill 119 dB. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has issued guidelines about the amount of time you can be exposed to different noise levels safely. If the level of noise in your workplace averages 85 decibals, you are at risk for noise-induced hearing loss after eight hours of exposure. If the average level of noise is 88 decibals, you are at risk after only four hours of exposure. Remember—the greater the noise level, the less time before hearing damage can occur. Start protecting your ears now!


Man wearing a hard hat and protective eye goggles clutching an electric saw in his hands.
Q: What's wrong with this picture?

How can you protect your ears?

The safest way to protect your ears is to always wear hearing protectors anytime you are around loud noises. You can protect your ears by wearing special earplugs or special earmuffs. There are hundreds of kinds available. There are formable earplugs you can mold to your ears and premolded earplugs that come in several sizes. There are canal caps that are attached to headbands and are very convenient if you work in intermittent noise where you need to take your earplugs on and off throughout the day. Some earplugs have stems so you can insert them without touching the part that goes inside your ear. You can also get earplugs custom molded to fit your ear. Earmuffs come with large and small earcups, different types of headbands, and different types of ear cushions. There is something for everyone and for every environment. Which type are you getting?


How can you hear verbal instructions or machine warnings?

Hearing protectors will lower the noise level of your equipment; they won't eliminate the sound. There are protectors that lower the sound enough to be safe but allow you to hear speech at a comfortable level. This is especially important for those who work in noise where communiction is important. The hearing protectors will bring both noise and warning sounds down equally. So, if the warning sound is audible without the hearing protector, it will usually be audible when wearing the protectors. Some protectors will reduce certain frequencies more than others, so wearing them can make noises sound different. If it is important for you to hear sounds just as they are, there are earmuffs and earplugs that reduce all sounds about the same. There are many hearing protectors with built-in communication systems. There are even special high-fidelity earplugs and noise-activated hearing protectors that professional musicians and mechanics wear. These earplugs and protectors don't change sound quality except for making it softer. They are useful when it's important to hear speech.


How Loud Is It? Sound Chart showing various tools and the of decibel levels these tools produce when being utilized.


How long does it take to get used to wearing hearing protectors?

Image of hand and arm hammering a nail into a board

Once you have found the right hearing protector for you, it will not take long to get used to wearing it. The fact is, the time it takes to adjust to wearing hearing protectors is no different from the time it takes to get used to wearing other safety equipment. If you don't have a good fit, it will be like wearing shoes that don't fit--you will never like wearing them! You don't have to wear shoes that are too small or a hard hat that is too large, and you don't have to settle for hearing protectors that don't fit. Make sure your hearing protection is the right size and fit for you and that you replace it when it wears out.


What about a hearing test?

Anyone regularly exposed to hazardous noise should have a hearing test every year. Those who are not exposed to hazardous noise should have a hearing test every three years. Anyone who notices a change in his/her hearing should have a hearing test right away. When was your last hearing test?


WISE EARS!®  is sponsored by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), National Institutes of Health (NIH); the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and a national coalition of Government agencies, public organizations, businesses, industries, unions, and organizations that advocate for children and older Americans to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. For more information, visit

For more information on noise-induced hearing loss, contact:
Information Clearinghouse
1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20892-3456
Voice: (800) 241-1044
TTY: (800) 241-1055
Fax: (301) 770-8977

A: He's protecting his eyes and head, but not his ears!


NIH Publication No. 01-4937
Updated April 2007


National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Celebrating 20 years of research: 1988 to 2008