Hearing Conservation in Europe

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), nearly 17,000 workers in the United Kingdom suffer from the effects of hearing loss due to excessive noise exposures on the job.

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While noise-induced hearing loss is permanent, it can be prevented! The HSE offers a variety of publications for employers about administering an effective Hearing Conservation program in specific industries at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/noisindx.htm

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Source: UK Health and Safety Executive http://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/keyfacts.htm
Hearing Loss and Chemical Industry

There’s growing evidence that shows chemical industry workers are particularly vulnerable to hearing loss.

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Exposures to certain compounds (those containing lead, toluene, n-butyl alcohol and carbon monoxide) have been linked to increased hearing loss by themselves, and they are now known to combine synergistically with noise to cause increased hearing loss. Individual susceptibilities appear quite varied, and the offending noise levels are difficult to generalize.

Hearing professionals recommend increasing the frequency of audiometric testing for noise-exposed employees who are also exposed to significant levels of ototoxic solvents, heavy metals and other chemical compounds.

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Hearing Conservation For The Chemical Industry
Hearing Loss and Construction

Over 500,000 U.S. construction workers are exposed to hazardous noise on a regular basis. 

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But the use of hearing protection is the exception rather than the rule. A study of construction workers in Washington state showed that construction workers were exposed to 85 dBA or higher in about 70% of their workshifts, yet wore their hearing protectors less than 20% of the time.

On the up side, the study also concluded that, on average, workers achieved more than half of an earplug's published Noise Reduction Rating (NRR), and that most times, this was just enough protection for their application. 

source: 
1 - Suter, Alice. "Construction Noise: Exposures, Effects, and the Potential for Remediation; A Review and Analysis" (http://www.cdc.gov/elcosh/docs/d0100/d000054/d000054.html) 2 - Seixas, Noah and Neitzel, Rick. "Noise Exposure and Hearing Protection Use Among Construction Workers in Washington State," September 2004.

According to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), over 500,000 construction workers are exposed to hazardous noise.

source: 
Source: Suter, Alice. "Construction Noise: Exposures, Effects, and the Potential for Remediation; A Review and Analysis" http://www.cdc.gov/elcosh/docs/d0100/d000054/d000054.html

It’s very prevalent.

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In a study of construction workers in Washington state, results showed that construction workers were exposed to 85 dBA or higher in about 70% of their work shifts, yet wore their hearing protectors less than 20% of the time.

source: 
Seixas, Noah and Neitzel, Rick. "Noise Exposure and Hearing Protection Use Among Construction Workers in Washington State," September 2004.

Construction workers and laborers do use hearing protectors on the job - but not enough!

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The use of hearing protection is the exception rather than the rule. A study of construction workers in Washington state showed that construction workers were exposed to 85 dBA or higher in about 70% of their workshifts, yet wore their hearing protectors less than 20% of the time.

On the up side, the study also concluded that, on average, workers achieved more than half of an earplug's published Noise Reduction Rating (NRR), and that most times, this was just enough protection for their application.

source: 
Seixas, Noah and Neitzel, Rick. "Noise Exposure and Hearing Protection Use Among Construction Workers in Washington State," September 2004.

Recent studies indicate as many as 60% of construction workers have suffered a significant decline in hearing. 

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By the age of 41, only one in five have normal hearing, and after 16 to 25 years on the job, the average worker has the hearing of someone 20 years older.

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Hearing Protection: Double or Nothing?

While there is an array of activities happening on a work site at any given time, most construction noise averages less than 100 dB, ranging between 85 - 95 dB.

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While this does not lessen the need for hearing protective devices (HPDs), using lower attenuating and uniform attenuating hearing protectors can help workers avoid overprotection and thus improve overall worker safety.

source: 
Seixas, Noah and Neitzel, Rick. "Noise Exposure and Hearing Protection Use Among Construction Workers in Washington State," September 2004.

Construction workers and laborers are exposed to a variety of continuous and intermittent noise exposures on the work site.

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100+ dB: Immediate Noise Hazard - Protection Required:

  • Pneumatic chip hammer
  • Jackhammer
  • Concrete joint cutter
  • Chainsaw
  • Impact wrench
  • Pile driver
  • Bulldozer (no cab)
  • Sandblasting
  • Compressed air blower
  • Paver

 

90-99 dB: Significant Noise Hazard - Protection Required

  • Portable power tools (router, circular saw, drill, sander)
  • Table saw / Planer
  • Tamper
  • Crane
  • Hammer
  • Earthmover
  • Front-end loader
  • Metal shear

85-89 dB: Protection Recommended

  • Welding machine
  • Heavy equipment (in cab)
  • Backhoe
  • Concrete mixer
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Compiled from data available from National Institutes of Occupational Safety & Health, Center to Protect Workers' Rights, and Laborer's Health & Safety Fund of North America
Hearing Loss and Mining

Miners have the highest incident of noise-induced hearing loss amongst all occupations.

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Nearly 80% of American miners are exposed to noise levels that exceed 85 dBA. 25% of these miners are exposed to noise levels higher than the 90 dBA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL). 

90% of all coal miners above the age of 50 have a hearing impairment. By the time coal miners retire, they are nearly guaranteed a moderate hearing loss. 

source: 
Source: R.J. Matetic. “Hearing Loss in the Mining Industry: Overview of the NIOSH Hearing Loss Prevention Program at the Pittsburgh Research Laboratory.” http://www.msha.gov/30CFR/62.0.htm

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL), despite 25 years of regulation.

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The use of heavy equipment, the drilling of rock, and the confined work environment all contribute to high levels of noise exposure in mining. Every day, 80% of miners work where the time-weighted average (TWA) exceeds 85 dBA. Moreover, 25% are exposed to a TWA noise level that exceeds 90 dBA - the permissible exposure limit (PEL). As a result, as many as 70-90% of all miners have NIHL significant enough to be considered a disability.

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Studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is an across-the-board risk in all industries - including mining.

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In one study, approximately 40% of noise survey samples taken for longwall occupations exceeded the Permissible Exposure Level (PEL) of 100%. Noise doses up to 786% for longwall coal mining system workers were sampled in such job classifications as shearer operator, jacksetter (shieldman), longwall foreman, and headgate (stageloader) operator(1). 

Another study found that 69% of the noise exposure of sand and gravel miners at surface and nine dredge operations was over the 85 dBA REL. The same survey reported that 48% of these miners never used hearing protectors(2),

source: 
(1) Noise exposure in longwall mining and engineering controls research. Bauer ER, DJ Podobinski, and ER Reeves [2001]. (2) Landen, D., Wilkins, S., Stephenson, M., and McWilliams, L., 2004, "Noise exposure and hearing loss among sand and gravel miners," Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, Vol. 1, pp. 532-541, August., Methods for Hearing Protection

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is permanent and irreversible.

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One NIOSH study found that by age 50, about 90% of coal miners and 49% of metal/nonmetal miners had a hearing impairment (as compared with 10% of the non-occupational noise-exposed population). Simply stated, most miners have a hearing loss by retirement.

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Hearing Loss in the Mining Industry: Overview of the NIOSH Hearing Loss Prevention Program at the Pittsburgh Research Laboratory
Hearing Loss and the MIlitary

More than 2/3 of British troops returning from Afghanistan suffer from severe NIHL.

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In a study released by the Deafness Research Foundation and the UK Ministry of Defence, nearly 69% of UK troops returning from Afghanistan had suffered hearing loss due to combat noise. Many combat troops complained of tinnitus, some of complete deafness.

source: 
Pearson, Chris (Surg. Cdr., RN). “The Extent of Operational NIHL.” http://www.deafnessresearch.org.uk/docs/research/mod/SurgCdrPearson.pdf

Noise-induced hearing loss is the top disability amongst US military personnel.

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According to the Deafness Research Foundation, more than 65% of returning combat troops from Afghanistan suffer from noise-induced hearing loss. Many troops sustain acoustic trauma – hearing loss – when exposed to very loud blasts, such as incendiary explosive devices (IEDs).

source: 
Deafness Research Foundation. “Hearing loss number one diagnosis for military.’ http://www.drf.org/news/161/Hearing+loss+number+one+diagnosis+for+military
Music and Hearing Loss

Though MP3 players and other personal listening devices have become smaller over the years, they still pack a punch. Some devices have volume outputs of 100 - 107 decibels and higher(1).

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As a rule of thumb, you can listen at 80% of a personal listening device’s maximum volume safely with earbuds or headphones for 90 minutes per day without the risk of noise-induced hearing loss. If you listen at a lower volume, you can listen for longer; for higher volumes, less time.

In 2009, the European Commission has recommended that MP3 players and other personal listening devices be limited to a default maximum volume setting of 80 dBA, a noise level comparable to a hair dryer or commuter noise. Though it would not limit the maximum output volume of the device, it would provide starting point for safe listening and provide the user with a warning that listening at too high volume over extended periods of time could cause noise-induced hearing loss.

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Source: (1) Keith, Stephen E., David S. Michaud, and Vincent Chiu. “Evaluating the maximum playback sound levels from portable digital audio players.” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, June 2008. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18537374 (2) http://www.techradar.com/blogs/article/european-commission-orders-volume-down-on-mp3-players-640699

In certain sections, musicians are exposed to an average 90 dBA and peak exposures of 130 dBC!

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In 2006, the Liz Brueck of the UK Health & Safety Laboratory performed a study on the noise exposures classical musicians experienced during both rehearsals and performances. While many people consider classical music a “quieter” music, to be enjoyed for its subtle nuances, live performances can be particularly stunning – and loud!

In measuring average and peak ambient noise levels, it was determined that the musicians were exposed to over 87 dBA – the EU Exposure Limit Value, or the maximum allowable noise level in the ear with all hearing protection in place! Strings averaged 90 dBA during a performance. The brass section averaged 95 dBA in the center, and 131 dBC in peak exposures. In the percussion section, musicians averaged exposures over 90 dBA, with upwards of 130 dBC.

The study recommended that the orchestra layout be rearranged to protect players from the loudest sounds – and that brass musicians wear hearing protection!

source: 
Brueck, Liz. “Orchestra pilot of the industry / HSE noise guidance.” UK Health & Safety Laboratory. http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/hsl_pdf/2006/hsl0696.pdf
Noise Measurements

If you can’t be heard from an arm’s length away, you should be wearing an HPD.

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If you don’t have scientific tools to give you an accurate picture of your noise level risk, you can get an “unofficial,” ballpark idea as to your risk of NIHL. Just stand at arm’s length from the person you’re speaking to; if you have to raise your voice to be heard, the noise in your area is potentially at a hazardous level.

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source: Annals of Occupational Hygiene, November 2008
Training and Motivation

While print and Web materials are useful, it has been shown that face to face tutorials—especially sessions where one-on-one instruction is employed.

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Numerous studies show that the most effective way to teach workers about correct hearing protection habits and usage is through one-on-one training.

source: 
source: Assessing Fit Effectiveness of Earplugs

It's best to provide workers with Hearing Conservation training at the time of their annual audiogram.

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In a report by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE), at worksites where managers reportedly provided training in the use of hearing protectors, about two-thirds of the workers could not recall or recognize having been trained. Only 20% of workers recalled receiving training on factors that limit the effectiveness of hearing protectors, even though all their managers reported providing that training.

There is one standout aspect of hearing conservation that was very memorable for workers: the audiometric test. Fully 83% of workers at companies administering hearing tests reported receiving the test. Many employers find that the most effective time for administering hearing conservation training is in conjunction with the annual audiometric testing, when the worker is tuned into his personal safety and health.

source: 
G.W. Hughson, R.E. Mulholland, H.A. Cowie, “Behavioural Studies of People's Attitudes to Wearing Hearing Protection and How These Might Be Changed.” Research report 028 of the Institute of Occupational Medicine (2002), Edinburgh, UK.
Workers with Hearing Impairment / Deaf

Yes, workers with a hearing impairment (including those who wear hearing aids) or are deaf must be included in an occupational hearing conservation program if they are exposed to hazardous noise.

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Employers are still required to provide annual audiometry and training, and those workers exposed to hazardous noise must wear hearing protection devices (HPD). These workers still need to preserve whatever hearing they still have.
 
Though a worker may be hearing impaired or deaf and wear a hearing aid, they are still required to use hearing protection when exposed to hazardous noise levels. While a conventional single-use foam or multiple-use earplug may not be ideal for these workers, there are several options available from manufacturers - such as uniform attenuating HPDs or sound amplification protectors.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss [NIHL]

Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common permanent and preventable occupational injury in the world.

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NIHL is 100% permanent. But it’s also 100% preventable.

source: 
source: NIOSH Pub. No. 2001-103

Damage to the eardrum is permanent.

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Noise-induced hearing loss primarily damages the outer hair cells in the cochlea or inner ear.  Damage can be temporary or over time, damage is cumulative and permanent.(1) A ruptured eardrum usually heals within a few weeks without treatment. Sometimes, you may need a procedure to promote healing of a ruptured eardrum, or need surgical repair for a ruptured eardrum. (2)

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sources: (1) http://www.webmd.com/news/20000616/noise-causes-hearing-loss (2) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ruptured-eardrum/ds00499

Hearing loss typically occurs at repeated, unprotected exposures above 90 dB (about as loud as a handsaw or a forklift), but most people don’t feel pain in their ears until noise levels reach 120 dB—the noise level of a jet engine.

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After hearing loss, the most common indication of noise damage is ringing in the ears (called “tinnitus”). If you experience this regularly after work or leisure activities, you should look into HPD, ASAP.

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source: Howard Leight Noise Thermometer

The telltale sign of NIHL is speech sounding distorted and less clear—but not necessarily softer. You can still hear people talking to you, but it’s harder to make out all the exact words.

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The most sensitive part of the eardrum is the region that detects high-frequency sounds. So whether hazardous noise is low-frequency (a foghorn) or high-frequency (static), a high-frequency hearing loss—where speech occurs—is the result.

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source: We Choose to Hear - And Listen

Noise-induced hearing loss causes no pain, no visible trauma, and leaves no visible scars.

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An ear damaged by loud noise looks just like a normal ear. Ears don’t bleed, bruise or scar; damage to the eardrum is invisible to the naked eye. In short, you can’t judge someone’s hearing by looking at his or her ears.

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source: We Choose to Hear - And Listen
Hearing Protectors

Your mother is a smart woman, but there are some things that are completely safe to insert in your ear.

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Most of us heard the old elbow bit from our mom, and yes: It is true that using cotton swabs, erasers, pen caps, paper clips or pinky fingers to clean the ears is not safe. But earplugs are designed to protect the sensitive hearing mechanisms while never coming close to touching the ear drum—even when deeply inserted. (But remember: Your mother was right about everything else.)

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source: www.howardleight.com

Removing an earplug for just a few minutes in an area where HPD is mandated during the workday will negatively affect overall protection effectiveness, raising your NIHL risk dramatically.

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Removing a 30 NRR earplug for only five minutes reduces effective protection to only 26 dB. Removing the earplug for 30 minutes and the effective protection drops to 18 dB during an eight-hour shift. This seemingly small act can turn adequate protection into increased NIHL risk.

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source: www.howardleight.com

Foam earplugs offer more protection from noise than earmuffs—when they’re properly fit in the ear canal.

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It’s more about correct use than style: A poorly-fit foam earplug actually offers little or no protection from noise. And that piece of cocktail napkin you grabbed from the bar and moistened with saliva? A very, very distant third place.

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source: www.howardleight.com

 One-on-one training has the most significant impact a good earplug fit.

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 In a recent study of factors that influence a good earplug fit, there were no personal factors that were accurate predictors of a good fit of an ear plug in the field: Gender, age, years in noise, ear canal size, familiarity with product, and the model of earplug were simply not good predictors of whether a user would achieve good attenuation.

When program factors were evaluated to predict a good ear plug fit, there was one factor that stood out distinctly with a strong correlation: one-on-one training. That is, the more often a worker had received individual training in the proper use of hearing protectors, the higher the probability of a good fit. The same could not be said for group training; it appeared to make no difference at all whether a worker had attended zero, five, or 10 group training sessions in hearing protection, when measuring good attenuation in the field. (There are other good reasons to offer group training in a Hearing Conservation Program, but group training is not the best method for teaching hearing protector fitting procedures.)

Enforcement was also a good predictor of good earplug performance, but only when it was coupled with one-on-one training. When strong enforcement policies were in place without proper training, workers were actually more likely to have a poor fit than a good fit.

 
source: 
Howard Leight Acoustical Laboratory. "Assessing Fit Effectiveness of Earplugs." http://www.hearforever.org/tools-to-learn/assessing-fit-effectiveness-of-earplugs
Hearing Conservation at Work

Institutional savings as a result of addressing NIHL can reach the hundreds of millions.

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From 1974 to 1994, the US Army saved $504.3M by reducing hearing loss in combat personnel through a dedicated Hearing Conservation Program. Between 1987 and 1997, the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs saved another $149M and $220M, respectively, by reducing civilian hearing loss.

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source: NIOSH Pub. No. 2001-103

Occupational hearing loss costs an estimated $242.4 million per year in disability alone.

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This amount is based on the Washington state 1991 workers' compensation hearing-related disability settlements, extended across the national workforce. It doesn’t include other costs that can include roughly $1500 for a hearing aid and approximately $300/year for batteries. It should be noted that, due to under-reporting, workers' compensation data is generally believed to reflect an incomplete picture.

source: 
source: NIOSH Pub. No. 2001-103

NIHL is the most common occupational injury in the United States.

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22 million US workers are exposed to hazardous noise at work on a daily basis and approximately 9 million Americans suffer from NIHL.

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source: NIOSH Pub. No. 2001-103

While less than 10% of the general population is hearing impaired, 50% of carpenters and plumbers—and 90% of retiring coal mine industry workers—have NIHL.

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NIHL is a risk in a wide range of work environments, but workers in some industries have higher exposures to dangerous levels of noise. These industries include: agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, utilities, transportation and the military.

source: 
source: NIOSH Pub. No. 2001-103

Miners have the highest incidence of occupational hearing loss in the United States. 

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At least 80% of American miners are exposed to noise levels that exceed 85 dBA; 25% of these miners are exposed to noise levels higher than the 90 dBA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL). Ninety-percent of all coal miners above the age of 50 have a hearing impairment. By the time coal miners retire, they are nearly guaranteed a moderate hearing loss.

source: 
R.J. Matetic. “Hearing Loss in the Mining Industry: Overview of the NIOSH Hearing Loss Prevention Program at the Pittsburgh Research Laboratory.”
Hearing Conservation at Home

Nearly half of adult children say that their parent’s hearing loss has affected their relationship with that parent.

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According to a recent survey by Energizer, 45 percent of adult children said that a parent’s loss of hearing has affected their parental relationship. In addition, one in three of those surveyed said their parent misses important details about their lives.

Tellingly, 72 percent of parents agree with those findings. So, yes: it does matter.

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source: Energizer Battery, 2009

Workplace noise isn’t any more or less harmful than any other type of noise. It’s exactly the same.

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Hazardous noise occurs both on the job and off. You are exposed to dangerous noise levels in many areas of your life, whether at a music concert, a racetrack, using a belt sander or just mowing the lawn. All hazardous noise, wherever you are exposed to it, forms part of an overall cumulative risk that can damage your hearing—even if you follow every HPD rule at work.

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source: National Institute of Health Pub. No. 00-4848

Shutting out distracting aural stimuli in your vicinity can enhance your ability to concentrate.

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Using earplugs helps to keep your mind free from unwanted intrusions (or “white noise”), allowing you to keep your attention on what you’re doing, rather than what everyone else in the world is doing around you.

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source: New York Times, 2009