Sometimes, it’s easy to see the costs of a decision. If you drive around on a flat tire, you wear your tires out. You may have to pay for a realignment or new axle. If you never changed your oil, you’d blow up your engine.
Sometimes the costs are more subtle, or it’s hard to see the connection. That doesn’t mean the costs aren’t there. If you never eat your vegetables, eventually your health will suffer.
Hearing loss at work is in the latter category. It’s hard to see the real costs and connections except in hindsight. But they’re still there. What is hearing loss at work really costing you? Let’s take a look.
How Common Is Hearing Loss at Work?
According to studies, around 12% of people currently working have hearing trouble, plus another 8% who have tinnitus (ringing of the ears). Four percent of them have tinnitus that’s so bad that they can’t hear.
Government agencies estimate that 24% of this is due to exposure on the job. Despite efforts by the government to curb health hazards, 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels each year.
Another 10 million are exposed to toxins at work that can worsen hearing loss. These include some cleaners, heavy metals, and carbon monoxide. Many of these are just part of a day’s work in some professions.
What Does Hearing Loss Cost You?
The costs are far-reaching.
On the Job Costs
The Better Hearing Institute found that people with untreated hearing loss make on average $12,000 less each year compared to those with normal hearing.
This could be attributed to the following. Research shows that with hearing loss, you’re at increased risk of:
- Injury leading to temporary disability
- Struggles in job performance
- Trouble hearing/understanding instructions
- Getting into arguments because of something you think someone said or didn’t say
- Missing out on promotions/raises
- Missing work
But it doesn’t end there.
Costs At Home
People with untreated hearing loss are also more likely to struggle with personal relationships. One study found that people with hearing loss have more arguments with family, and 33% said that hearing loss caused most of their arguments.
One out of 16 people with hearing loss says that their spouse has threatened divorce if they don’t get help. Twenty percent of people with hearing loss admit that they regularly lie to family about how bad it is.
This often bleeds over into job performance.
People with untreated hearing loss are twice as likely to end up isolated from friends and family, leaving them without a “safety net” when they’re sick, depressed, injured, or suffering from failing health.
Health-related costs include treatment for conditions that studies show are more common in people with untreated hearing loss like:
- Social isolation (cost varies, but it can significantly increase overall health decline rate)
- Depression/Anxiety ($200-$500/mo plus lost workdays)
- Dementia (costs more than you want to think about)
- Fall risk increase ($15 thousand plus)
- Work accident risk increase (Varies)
- More likely to go to the ER ($2000-5000)
It’s time to get serious about your hearing.
Talking About Hearing Loss at Work
As the prevalence of hearing loss goes up around the world, we need to have some serious conversations in the workplace. Here are some tips:
- Follow all employer-mandated safety guidelines like wearing earplugs, masks, or other protective gear on the job. Most of these are tied back to OSHA guidelines intended to keep you safe.
- Talk to your co-workers about your concerns, such as work conditions that contribute to hearing loss. Don’t make threats. Instead, have respectful, honest conversations with your superiors.
- Download a sound meter app on your smartphone. When safe to do so, run some tests. Find out how loud your environment is. And remember these guidelines: 85 decibels for no more than 8 hours, 90 for no more than 2 hours, 95 for no more than 50 minutes, 100 for no more than 15 minutes, and 110+ = instant damage.
- Get your hearing tested every year. Find out how your hearing changes over time. If you’re losing your hearing, you may need to look for a safer work environment.
Finally, don’t wait to talk to a hearing specialist about your work environment and options for hearing better at work. Many people wait 7-10 years without getting help. They think it’s not so bad. Now, you know what waiting is really costing you. The costs are too high.