Work environments can be challenging for people with hearing loss. Not only can the workplace cause hearing loss, but managing work tasks with impaired hearing can also be difficult. Hearing loss reduces a person’s ability to absorb and process sound which impacts communication, a critical way we understand and navigate daily life. Strained communication can create a tough work environment and impact job performance. But there are useful ways to manage hearing loss and maximize communication, creating an accessible work environment that meets your needs!
Workplace Hearing Loss
According to the Hearing Health Foundation, 30 million people are exposed to hazardous noise levels in the workplace. Exposure to loud noise is a common cause of hearing loss, a condition that impacts nearly 1 in 5 people. Sound is measured in units known as decibels and noise above 85 decibels is potentially damaging for hearing.
One time or consistent absorption of sound at increased levels can permanently harm the hair cells in the inner ear. There are thousands of hair cells in each ear that work to help the brain translate sound waves. These hair cells, unlike other types of cells, do not regenerate (we are born with all of the hair cells we will ever have). This means that any damage and loss of sensitivity is permanent; there are no medical interventions that can treat these hair cells, resulting in hearing loss.
The workplace is one of the most common ways people are exposed to loud noise:
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 20,000 people develop temporary or permanent hearing loss from their workplace environment.
- 24% of all hearing loss is caused by workplace exposure to loud noise.
These statistics highlight that workplace hearing loss is pervasive. It is important that people, especially if you work in a noisier setting, practice the safety measures that protect hearing health.
Managing Hearing Loss in the Workplace
If you experience hearing loss, there are several ways you can create an accessible environment that best meets your hearing needs. A few ways include:
- Disclose Hearing Loss: it is common to feel anxious or nervous when thinking about sharing your hearing loss with your employer. But sharing this information is actually incredibly helpful because it starts the conversation around what your needs are. Disclosing your hearing loss invites your supervisor and coworkers to contribute to creating a supportive workplace. It also provides you with access to the various workplace accommodations that your employer is required to provide.
- Workplace Accommodations: the Americans with Disabilities Act (passed in 1990) prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires employers to provide accommodations. For hearing loss, this could include:
- moving your work area to a quieter setting
- adding a physical barrier between you and sources of loud noise
- there are different types of assistive listening devices that can enhance hearing aid use
- investing in transcription services which translate speech into text in real time (helpful during meetings)
It is important to do some research to learn more about the options available and what would work best for you!
- Anticipate Hearing Needs: another useful tip is to think about your hearing needs in the specific contexts you navigate at work and plan in advance. This could mean:
- asking for meeting agendas ahead of time and notes after
- requesting a room to be arranged in a way that allows you to clearly see everyone which supports more effective communication
- when possible, ask for important information to be sent via email
- Share Communication Strategies: you have likely learned the strategies that best maximize your hearing. Sharing communication tips with your supervisors and coworkers is a great way to facilitate effective communication. There are numerous tips that could be helpful including facing the speaker, grabbing your attention before starting a conversation, rephrasing rather than repeating etc. Effective communication relies on all participants so letting others know how to engage in useful ways is important!
- Wear Protective Gear: you can protect your hearing by wearing earmuffs, earplugs, or headphones which reduce the impact of loud noise. This gear serves as a protective barrier for your ears, reducing your risk of developing or worsening existing hearing loss.
By practicing safety measures and advocating for your hearing needs, you can navigate your workplace with greater ease and in ways that benefit your hearing health!
If you have experienced changes in your hearing, contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test. We’re here to help!