A loud work environment isn't just annoying and stressful -- it can have long-term consequences. According to Audicus Hearing Aids, an estimated 30 million Americans are exposed to hazardous noise on the job, and up to 60 percent of workers in certain fields experience hearing loss by age 50.
Audicus Hearing Aids compiled a list of high-risk occupations. Some are what you'd expect -- anyone who has ever passed a worker using a jackhammer has wondered how that person tolerates the noise -- but quite a few may surprise you. Agriculture: Tractors, forage harvesters, silage blowers, chain saws, skid-steer loaders, grain dryers and squealing pigs can make farm life quite noisy. Adding to the risk is the fact that many farmers have been exposed to these sounds since childhood. Sound-reducing cabs can help, as can keeping machine parts lubricated and in good shape in order to reduce friction and decibel levels.
Pay: Median hourly pay is $9.12 for agricultural workers and $29.21 for farmers, ranchers and agricultural managers.*
Construction/carpentry: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the average 25-year-old carpenter has the ears of a 50-year-old. Wearing hearing protectors on a more regular basis may be key in this profession, as fewer than 20 percent of carpenters report using them "most of the time" when working in loud conditions. Other construction employees at risk include laborers, operators, ironworkers and sheet-metal workers. Hammer drills top the list of noise-making culprits, followed closely by chain saws, chop saws, miter saws and impact wrenches.
Pay: Median hourly pay is $19.25 for carpenters, $14.60 for construction laborers and $20.94 for equipment operators.
Firefighting: If you think that siren is loud as it passes your house, imagine the impact on the firefighters riding in the vehicle. Frequent exposure to the sounds of air horns, power tools and high-intensity water pumps adds to the potential for hearing problems.
Pay: Median hourly pay for firefighters is $21.76.
Manufacturing: Manufacturing is one of the largest fields in the U.S. -- and one of the noisiest. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational hearing loss is the most commonly recorded occupational illness in manufacturing -- 17,700 cases out of 59,100 cases -- accounting for 1 in 9 recordable illnesses. From food processing plants to textile industries, consistent exposure to noise over time can be problematic in virtually all places that make goods. High levels are particularly common in metal fabrication plants and other facilities where metal-on-metal impact occurs.
Pay: The average hourly pay for workers in this field is $24.17.
Military: The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that nearly 10 percent of all disabilities among veterans receiving disability compensation at the end of 2003 were problems of the auditory system, including hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Likewise, a recent study by the Deafness Research Foundation showed that more than 65 percent of returning combat troops from Afghanistan suffer from noise-induced hearing loss or sustained acoustic trauma. Sources of noise include weapons such as handguns, rifles, artillery pieces and rockets; wheeled and tracked vehicles; aircraft; ships; and communication devices. Combat-related noise can be unpredictable in onset and duration, though military personnel also encounter noise during training and standard military operations.
Pay: Basic pay is based on rank and time in service. Pay bands are the same for all branches of service. Members of the Armed Forces receive additional pay for foreign duty, hazardous duty, submarine duty and flight duty and for being medical officers.
Mining: Just how bad is the noise from the double whammy of working with heavy excavation machinery and a confined environment? According to the CDC, 76 percent of mine workers are exposed to hazardous noise, the highest figure for all major industries. What's more, 1 out of every 4 mine workers has a severe hearing problem; 4 out of 5 have a hearing impairment by the time they reach retirement age. The Office of Mine Safety and Health Research and other organizations are addressing the problem by working on technological advances to reduce noise.
Pay: The average hourly pay for miners is $28.12.
Plumbing: According to the CDC, 48 percent of plumbers report having a perceived hearing loss. Plumbers often work with and around loud equipment such as power saws, drills, nail guns and hammers. While buying quieter models when purchasing new equipment can help, as can placing noisy equipment such as compressors and generators as far from the work zone as possible, continuous use of hearing protection is among the best ways to reduce noise exposure.
Pay: The mean hourly pay for plumbers is $25.46.
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