Summer sounds can bring hearing loss

| July 1, 2013
hearing protection required sign

Many workers don’t realize they have hearing damage until it’s too late to reverse it, making proper hearing PPE a summer work essential. (Image via

What are the sounds of summer? For many of us, it means the chirping of birds, but also the whirl of lawnmowers and the din of jackhammers as construction season kicks into high gear.

It also means there will be many people exposed to excessive, potentially dangerous levels of noise who aren’t used to thinking about the proper precautions – from seasonal employees to property owners and DIYers taking up summer projects.

According to the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, “injurious levels of noise are produced by almost every power saw, power sander, nail gun, weed eater, leaf blower, roto-tiller, power washer and shop vac.”

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), exposure to noise levels at 85 decibels or more over a period of eight hours can cause hearing damage. Perhaps the most alarming part about noise-induced hearing loss is that most people don’t initially recognize it, and don’t exercise proper precaution to minimize additional damage.

A study published this month in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that 76 percent of workers at several Midwest auto plants believed their hearing was “excellent or good.” Hearing tests, however, revealed 42 percent had hearing loss. The study illustrates that for some, the onset of hearing loss can go unnoticed. Hearing damage initially manifests simply as difficulty hearing higher pitches and understanding speech.

But noise-induced hearing loss – unlike hearing loss due to age or a medical condition – is completely preventable. So take a look at the activities below, and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when needed. While ear plugs can be uncomfortable and ear muffs aren’t particularly appealing in the summer, neither are hearing aids for life.

Mining, construction and manufacturing

If you’re hired as summer help in any of these industries, know that they have the highest levels of hearing loss, according to the study, with road construction workers leading the pack.

For someone 50 feet away, some of the loudest pieces of equipment are: a concrete saw and hoe ram (each generates 90 decibels), clam shovel (93 decibels) and an impact pile driver and vibratory pile driver (95 decibels each), according to the Federal Highway Administration.


If it’s a sunny afternoon and you’re doing some work outside, you may need to think about more than SPF. Consider that your basic power lawnmower generates 90 decibels, a front-end loader generates 90-95, a chain saw creates 100 decibels and a tractor generates 95-105, according to the Washington State Department of Labor.

photo of safety gear and chain saw

He has the proper safety gear for using a chain saw – if only he’d pull down the ear muffs. (Photo by Living Off Grid.)


If your honey-do list includes carpentry work, it’s time to buy some ear plugs. A power saw delivers 110 decibels, a belt sander creates 93 decibels, and a hand drill creates 98, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Category: Construction, Safety Tips