Blog Kitchen Noise : January 2023
One of the friends, that I've known the longest in Portland, works in the Restaurant Industry and has for years. He is a chef and works in a major hotel in downtown Portland. His recent accounts of three concussions, all occurring at the workplace, really got me thinking, not only from a Speech Language Pathologist perspective but also from a hearing conservationist realm. "B" as I respectfully call him, came to see me this past week for a set of PepPlugs. Why? because the workplace noise, industrial noise, and even travel noise have been unbearable to him since his recent head injuries. I asked him to describe the workplace hazards and this is what I learned.
Kitchens are incredibly loud. The combination of employees, dishes, equipment, oftentimes music, and poor room acoustic all combine for potentially hazardous listening levels.
"B" agreed to use a sound level meter and take some readings throughout the shift to capture his noise exposure in the workplace. There are times in the Kitchen that top 100 dB and overall ambient room noise is generally 80-85 dB. Occupational Noise exposure is real and Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA) Standards
require employers to implement a hearing conservation program when noise exposure is at or above 85 decibels averaged over 8 working hours, or an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).
So even with the constant noise of 78-82 dB with some louder clanking of pots and dishes closer to 87 or 90dB for an 8 hours shift is nearly exceeding the maximum noise exposure for a day without a hearing conservation program (using hearing protection, engineering, and scheduling controls, etc...) A Hearing conservation program strives to prevent initial occupational hearing loss, preserve and protect remaining hearing, and equip workers with the knowledge and hearing protection devices necessary to safeguard themselves.
So the discomfort and concerns that "B" is faced with in the restaurant industry are real and potentially hazardous for his hearing (not to mention the other physical hazards he's experienced with a fall, hitting his head into a metal pipe, and the other factors that have caused the concussions this past year.) Also,
what "B" also may be encountering post-concussion is a condition called "Hyperacusis". According to the Hearing Health Foundation, "Hyperacusis is a troublesome and potentially debilitating loudness intolerance disorder in which everyday sounds are perceived as extremely loud, annoying, frightening, and in some cases painful. Hyperacusis is not simply a hearing disorder but one that is associated with diverse neurological and genetic conditions such as autism, fibromyalgia, migraine, lupus, tinnitus, and head trauma, as well as being linked causally to stress and noise."
In conclusion, many service industries including restaurants, bars, concert venues, and stadiums are loud, dangerously loud and this is impactful for employees and workers that are continually exposed to high levels of noise pollution. Steps to reduce noise intake are good not only for hearing health and hearing loss prevention but also to reduce stress, combat fatigue from over-sensory input and for an overall healthy workplace. Employers need to think seriously about their employees' Occupational Safety and Health. "B" is doing the right thing by seeking out PepPlugs and hearing protection to decrease some of the daily noise intake. If you have questions about hearing protection, workplace safety regarding noise or hearing health, feel free to contact me. Radha Joy, Hearing Conservationist (COHC) and Speech Language Pathologist (SLP-CCC)
See this article written in AARP about Hyperacusis.