March 3rd is World Hearing Day. In recognition of this day, we’re taking a look at truck drivers and hearing loss. Unfortunately, this can be an often-overlooked health issue many drivers face and is the most common occupational disease in the world.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), sounds above 80 decibels (dB) may cause vibrations intense enough to damage your inner ear. (Rock concerts can be around 100 dB.) Inside the average cab of a semi or tractor-trailer is around 85 dB, unless there are extra soundproofing measures taken. Noise sources inside of a cab can be:
- Exhaust pipes
- Engine brakes
- Cooling fan via the firewall or engine tunnel
- Transmission and drivetrain
- Wind going around the windscreen and mirror brackets
- Front tires
- Air-intake from cabin-mounted air cleaners
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise each year. The NIOSH found that 24% of hearing difficulty among U.S. workers comes from occupational exposures. The organization also discovered that 13% of transportation and warehouse workers have hearing difficulty, and 75% report having tinnitus, a constant ringing or other noise in one or both of your ears.
A recent study of 500 drivers showed that 9% of truck drivers have impaired hearing in their left ears, and 13% have hearing loss in their right ears in mid-level frequencies greater than 25 dB. It also found that 45% of the drivers had hearing loss in both ears at 50 dB and above.
Driving with Hearing Loss
Back in 2013, the U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) started letting deaf drivers operate commercial vehicles like large trucks. The requirements to obtain a commercial driver’s license are the driver must be able to hear a forced whisper in the better ear at not less than five feet. Or, that the applicant doesn’t have an average hearing loss in the better ear greater than 40 dB at 500 Hz, 1,000 Hz, and 2,000 Hz with or without a hearing aid.
If a driver fails a DOT hearing exam, they can seek an exemption from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. So far, more than 450 deaf drivers with good driving records have been given up to a five-year extension by the agency.
Improving the Situation
Experts advise that the best way to curtail the number of truck drivers facing hearing loss is to improve working conditions. This includes education, periodic medical examinations, and better maintenance of roads and vehicles. Here are a few tips from the NIOSH to help drivers protect their hearing while on the road:
- Wear hearing protection such as earplugs at loud delivery and loading sites – if it doesn’t reduce your ability to hear warning signals, moving vehicles, and other workers.
- Keep windows closed while driving, if possible.
- Keep radio volume to a low level.
- Soundproof the truck’s cab.
- Keep vehicle noise-suppression systems, such as exhaust mufflers, in good condition.
- Maintain vehicle and trailer equipment to eliminate vibrations, squeaks, and rattling.
Curious about what the sound levels are at your job? The NIOSH recommends downloading its Sound Level Meter App to measure workplace noise levels.
If you’re looking for other ways to protect drivers while on the road, Safety Track can help improve driver awareness. Click here for details.