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Published: October, 2014; Vol 11, Num 5

 

Take the Pressure Off:

Noise: Harmful to Hearing, Harmful to Blood Pressure

It is well-known that jackhammering, highway construction and other noisy construction tasks performed without hearing protection can lead to occupational hearing loss. But did you know this can also increase your risk for high blood pressure?

In addition to its effect on hearing, noise is also damaging to overall health.

“Noise can cause a stress, and the stress can affect the physiological problems,” explained Dr. Jan Boger, director of the USF Hearing and Balance Center in Tampa, Florida, in an interview about the harmful effects of noise.

As previously covered in this series on high blood pressure, controlling stress is essential to mental and physical health. That’s because the rush of adrenaline and other hormones that the body releases when confronted by challenges and frustrations – the “fight or flight” reaction – makes blood pressure rise. This is further reason to always wear hearing protection when working in noisy environments such as construction sites and highway work zones. Even when harmful noise is intermittent, it is crucial that it be worn. Not wearing hearing protection when you are exposed to hazardous noise can permanently damage your ears, keep your body on edge and make your blood pressure climb.

Hazardous Noise at Work

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 5.7 million American workers are exposed to noise that is hazardous: sound levels greater than 85 decibles (dBA). These workers are at increased risk for hearing loss and high blood pressure. OSHA requires employers to provide hearing protection when workers are exposed to noise where the sound level is 90 dBA as an eight hour time-weighted average (TWA).

Off the clock, the assault on hearing and risk for high blood pressure continues when volume is jacked up on TV, radio and personal listening devices, and when the lawn is mowed without wearing hearing protection. Life-threatening conditions that can develop from high blood pressure including heart attack, stroke and heart failure kill more Laborers than any other illness or workplace injury.

Employers can help keep workers safe and healthy by instituting a comprehensive hearing conservation program that includes controlling on-the-job noise, as well as hosting hearing tests and toolbox talks on noise, hearing loss and the importance of protecting against high blood pressure. Contact the LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division for assistance in setting up a hearing loss prevention program that is specific to your site by calling 202-628-5465. Find out more about noise through the Fund’s Controlling Noise at Construction Sites guide. Click on Publications to order its Task-Based Hearing Loss Prevention manual and assorted materials on health and wellness including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Laborers can take steps to protect their hearing, blood pressure and overall health by always wearing hearing protectors when engaging in noisy tasks. They should ask for training on noise and hearing loss protection, get their hearing checked every year and, if they have hearing loss, document it. Off the clock, they can protect their hearing and reduce their stress levels by knowing what kinds of situations can cause harmful noise levels and taking steps to minimize the exposures.

Next month, a look at the importance of maintaining a healthy weight to reduce your risk for high blood pressure.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]