NIOSH researchers had to spend a lot of time in nightclubs, listening to music, for a recent study on noise-induced hearing loss. What they found is that a group of workers often overlooked when it comes to occupational safety and health is at risk for hearing loss and tinnitus.
A NIOSH science blog post says that in nightclubs and other music venues, all employees studied, regardless of occupation (waiters, musicians, DJs, etc.), were exposed to noise levels higher than the internationally recommended limits of 82-85 dB(A)/8 hours. Repeated exposure to loud music can cause permanent hearing loss and/or the ringing in the ears known as tinnitus. A new term has been coined for the condition: music-induced hearing loss.
“Once you have hearing loss, music will never sound the same,” notes the blog.
While research on music-induced hearing loss is increasing, hearing conservation efforts are still minimal. A few countries like Australia, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Finland, and Sweden have specific recommendations for occupational exposure limits when it comes to musical activities or noise in the entertainment industry.
NIOSH says that prevention approaches must be customized, since “classic” conservation initiatives primarily geared toward industrial settings may not be appropriate for high-volume entertainment or sports settings. The hazardous noise source cannot be removed; neither can the worker. In addition, convincing DJs, musicians and others who must hear the music well to use hearing protection is challenging.
Furthermore, NIOSH says that assessing hearing risk can be complicated when it comes to music. Hearing conservation experts used to dealing with noise have to think from an artistic perspective – not just a medical or scientific one.
NIOSH suggests targeting information campaigns at high-risk workers that highlight the value of hearing, the risks associated with continuous exposure to loud music and more important, the availability of services and products that preserve sound quality and are suited to musicians' needs.