The Impact of Noise on Hearing: The Science Behind Industrial Deafness

By Albert Valino

November 23, 2023


Industrial deafness may sound like a complex term, but its meaning has a significant impact on many workers in Australia. It touches on our ability to communicate, interact, and enjoy life at work and home. But what is it exactly, and why should you, someone keen to uncover the science behind it, care?

Industrial deafness, also known as occupational hearing loss, is when our hearing gets worse over time because of noisy workplaces. It’s a slow creep. Often, by the time people notice, it’s too late to fix.

The numbers tell a concerning story. Each year, thousands in Australia face the reality of hearing loss, especially those in noisy industries like: 

  • mining
  • manufacturing
  • mechanical
  • education
  • local government
  • construction
  • warehousing
  • agriculture
  • entertainment (involving loud music)
  • Heavy Transport

This issue affects individuals and ripples out to families, communities, and industries, facing reduced productivity and compensation claims.

In this blog post, we’ll discover how our ears pick up sounds, how workplace noise slowly chips away at our hearing, and what can be done to lessen the impact and protect our ears. 

Understanding the science behind industrial deafness is more than just feeding our curiosity. It’s about taking steps towards creating safer, sound-friendly workplaces for all. 

The Anatomy of the Ear and How Sound is Processed

Our ears are like magical doorways to a world full of sounds. From a bird’s chirp to a colleague’s chatter, they help us catch every tune and word. 

But how do they work, and what happens when the noisy buzz of a busy workspace hits our ears day after day? Let’s break it down in simple terms.

Imagine the ear as a tiny, clever machine with three main parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. 

The journey of a sound wave starts at the outer ear. It’s like the front door where sound knocks first. 

From there, sound travels to the middle ear. Here, tiny bones dance to the rhythm of the sound, passing it along to the inner ear. 

The inner ear is where the real magic happens. It turns these vibrations into electrical signals, sending them racing to the brain, saying, “Aha, I know what that sound is!”

Inside the inner ear, you’ll find a snail-shaped structure called the cochlea, filled with fluid and tiny hair-like cells. 

When sound vibrations reach the cochlea, they create waves in the fluid, making the hair cells wiggle. This wiggling creates electrical signals that zip to the brain, telling it what sound we’re hearing. It’s almost like the ear whispers to the brain, making sense of the sounds around us.

But what happens when the sounds are too loud? These loud noises can be bullies to our inner ear’s delicate hair cells. 

Over time, the relentless noise of machinery or loud tools in industrial settings can wear these cells down. The more they are exposed to loud noises, the less they can tell our brains about the sounds around us. This is where industrial deafness steps in.

How Noise Leads to Hearing Loss

Have you ever stepped out from a loud concert and felt a dullness in your hearing? Or noticed after a long day around heavy machinery, sounds seem a bit muffled? It’s not your imagination; it’s the reality of how noise affects our ears. Let’s dive into the noisy world to understand how it sneaks up to steal away the richness of sounds around us.

We’re often hit with two types when we talk about loud noises. 

First, there’s the sudden, shocking blast of sound that can literally stun your ears into silence. Imagine a firecracker going off next to you – bang! This kind of noise can cause immediate damage, making it a clear and present danger to your hearing.

Then, there’s the second type, the slow, stealthy thief of your hearing – prolonged exposure to moderate noise. This is like the relentless hum of machinery that accompanies your work hours. Day by day, it nibbles away at your hearing so slowly that you barely notice until sounds begin to fade away.

This sneaky process is known as industrial deafness. It’s a common unwanted companion in many industrial settings. 

The constant roar of engines, the clatter of tools, and the grinding of gears all contribute to a noisy veil that gradually dulls our hearing. And the scary part? Once the damage is done, there’s no turning back.

The prevalence of industrial deafness is a big concern. It’s not just about losing the ability to hear the beep of a warning signal or the chatter of your mates during breaks; it’s about losing a part of your connection to the world. It’s a slow fade that many don’t notice until it’s too late.

Measuring Sound and Noise Levels 

Imagine trying to catch a whisper in a storm. Hard, isn’t it? Now, think of your workplace. The clatter and clang could be that storm drowning out everything else. 

But how loud is too loud? Let’s talk about measuring this uproar, which is crucial to understanding industrial deafness.

The decibel (dB) is our friend when it comes to measuring sound. It tells us how quiet or loud a sound is: 

  • A quiet whisper: 30 dB
  • Normal conversation: 60 dB
  • Busy traffic: 70 dB
  • Vacuum cleaner: 75 dB
  • Lawnmower: 90 dB
  • Rock concert: 110 dB
  • Chainsaw: 120 dB
  • Jet engine at takeoff: 140 dB

In the industrial world, a line is drawn in the sand, a level where noise changes from annoying to harmful. That line often sits at 85 dB. 

Noise above this level, especially if you’re exposed to it day after day, can set the stage for hearing loss. It’s like a thief sneaking in daily, taking away a small piece of your hearing.

Prevention and Protection from Industrial Deafness

Every clang, bang, and hum in the workplace is a ripple that could touch our hearing. 

But fear not, for amidst the roaring noise, shields of silence await. Let’s delve into how we can clad ourselves in these shields and dance through the storm unscathed.

The first knights in shining armour in our tale are hearing protection gadgets. They’re simple yet mighty:

  • Earplugs: Like little guards that stand at the gates of your ears, keeping the noise at bay.
  • Earmuffs: Think of them as cosy homes that encase your ears, keeping the harsh sounds of the world outside.

Protecting your ears is a grand start, but why not calm the storm itself? Noise control measures step in here. From sound barriers to quiet machines, they act like whispers amidst the roars, dialling down the industrial racket:

  • Acoustic Enclosures: Picture big, silent boxes that house the noisy beasts – the machines, muffling their roars.
  • Sound Barriers: Imagine walls that rise up to catch the harsh sounds, letting only the soft whispers through.

Now, what about a guardian angel that warns you before danger approaches? 

Regular hearing tests play this role. They’re like your friendly neighbourhood watch, keeping an eye on your hearing, ready to ring the alarm if trouble brews. 

With early detection, you get a chance to act before the storm of noise takes away the melody of sounds from your life.

But why all this fuss? 

It’s not just about saving your ears from the industrial uproar. It’s about keeping your life vibrant with sounds. It’s about the laughter of loved ones, birds chirping, and music that stirs your soul. It’s about holding onto the beautiful audible world that wraps around us.

How Industrial Deafness Australia Can Help You 

Industrial Deafness Australia is the leading provider of specialist legal support for people affected by hearing loss due to their work. 

We make Industrial Deafness claims easy and help you access hearing aids at no cost to you.

Click here to CHECK YOUR ELIGIBILITY for industrial deafness claim, or call us on 1300 885 356. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}