October is National Protect Your Hearing Month. The annual observance is a time to learn about noise-induced hearing loss and ways to prevent it. Being exposed to loud noise can cause immediate or gradual hearing loss or other damage in one or both ears. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that hearing loss due to loud noise may affect up to 24 percent of American adults under age 70.

Protecting Truck Drivers from Hearing Loss

Truck drivers work in places that may expose them to extremely loud noise. This includes terminal yards, maintenance shops, warehouses, construction areas, and airports. Sirens, engine brakes, passing vehicles, motorcycles, and jack hammers are also common sources of loud noise on the road. Then there is the ambient combined sound of engine, exhaust, and tires that enters the cab, especially in older trucks. This all makes it hard to hear conversations, warning signals, and vehicle malfunctions even without a hearing impairment. Hearing loss makes things much worse.

Decibel (dB) units measure loudness. Sound levels over 80 decibels are harmful to the human ear. A diesel truck located 50 feet away can produce sound that measures over 90 dB. Vehicles with defective exhaust systems and other faulty parts can increase noise. In-cab noise levels in standard tractors can easily exceed 90 dB when the windows are open and the radio is on. Daily workplace noise exposures should stay within NIOSH recommended exposure limits to prevent hearing loss. Higher noise levels have lower exposure limits, and lower noises levels have higher limits. For example, if the exposure level is 91 dB, workers should only be exposed for two hours. An increase to 94 dB lowers the exposure limit to 60 minutes.

Protecting your drivers’ hearing will prevent ear injury and benefit their overall health. In Washington State, employers are required to train employees who work near loud noise about the hazards of noise-induced hearing loss and steps they can take to protect themselves. The following hearing protection tips and resources can help:

  • Identify, eliminate, or control noise sources when possible.
  • Wear hearing protection such as earplugs at loud delivery and loading sites as long as it does not reduce your ability to hear warning signals, moving vehicles, and other workers.
  • Rely more on visual assessments if inspecting vehicle while wearing hearing protection.

Cab

  • Keep windows closed while driving if possible.
  • Keep radio volume to a low level.
  • Soundproof your cab.

Truck and trailer

  • Keep vehicle noise-suppression systems, such as exhaust mufflers, in good serviceable condition.
  • Maintain vehicle and trailer equipment to eliminate vibrations, squeaks, and rattling.
  • Install aerodynamic fairing to reduce wind noise.

Free hearing protection resources:

NIOSH Hearing Loss Prevention website

Free NIOSH Sound Level Meter App

Washington State Department of Labor & Industries Noise and Hearing Protection

OSHA Occupational Noise Exposure website

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