Hearing management

Updated 13 December 2017

The 10 worst jobs for your ears

Most people wouldn't base their career choice on their hearing but a number of professions can put you at serious risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

You may have never thought about it before, but the career you choose could have a significant effect on your hearing. Certain jobs require you to be regularly exposed to high levels of noise. While you might feel that you have become used to the noisy environment, your ears could be taking strain without you even noticing it. High levels of noise damage the delicate structures of the inner ear and, over time, can lead to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

Noise levels are measured using decibels (dB). Sounds below 75 dB are considered safe, even when heard for a prolonged period of time, the National Institute of Health explains. Sounds above 85 dB are considered harmful and can cause NIHL. The louder the sound, the shorter amount of time it takes for hearing loss to occur. The American Speech Language and Hearing Association indicates that an average whisper measures around 30 dB whilst fireworks at about a metre away measure 150 dB.

Read: Noise levels of common sounds

These are the ten worst jobs for your ears:

10. Hairdresser

Becoming a hairdresser is a popular career choice around the world but most wouldn't think that fixing other people's bad hair days could lead to hearing loss. Unfortunately, the noise from a number of hairdryers being used at the same time often reaches 85 dB which, while is on the lower end of the scale, can still contribute to gradual hearing loss over time., Viney Hearing Care explains.

9. Nursery school teacher

Teaching young children may not only cause you to lose your patience - your hearing could also take a knock. With all the temper tantrums, screaming, crying, shouting and singing that comes along with a class of toddlers, it's easy to understand how noise levels can easily reach 85 dB, Cirrus Research suggests. Teachers should aim to break up their day, alternating between quiet time activities such as art, drawing and story time with more noisy activities such as music and outdoor play.

8. Motorcycle courier or delivery person

If you deliver pizzas or parcels via motorbike, your ears could be in trouble. Motorbikes are known for their noisiness and together with the "wind noise" factor they can produce an ear-ringing 103 decibels of sound, Hearing Test Labs suggests. If you ride a bike, be sure that you're wearing a helmet that covers your entire head as these offer better protection than the skullcap type.

7. Gardener

If you're a gardener, you could be at risk of hearing loss. While trimming your lawns and producing that lovely fresh-cut grass smell, weed eaters and lawn mowers can also generate up to 107 dB of noise, Pocket Lint suggests. If you employ a gardener or garden yourself, look at getting them a set of protective ear plugs.

6. Musician, DJ, sound crew or nightclub staff

It is well known that loud music is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. For most bartenders, doormen, DJ's and other nightclub staff the noise level is usually above 115 dB with music continuously blaring into the early hours of the morning, according to Acoustical Surfaces. This prolonged exposure can cause serious damage to their hearing yet it is uncommon for staff to wear any form of ear protection. Phil Collins and Chris Martin from Coldplay are amongst a number of high-profile musicians that have suffered significant damage to their hearing as a result of their successful careers in the music industry.

5. Carpenter

For carpenters, whose work involves building things such as furniture out of wood, a level of noise from electric saws and other machinery is an unavoidable part of the job. Hearing Lab suggests that the noise from a rotary hammer (also known as hammer drills) alone can measure up to 120 dB.

4. Builder

Like carpentry, construction is another very noisy industry. Drills, jack hammers and compactors can be heard from quite a distance away so imagine how loud the noise can be when you're actually operating the machinery! The American Speech Language Hearing Association indicates that a jack hammer measures on the higher end of the decibel scale at a whopping 130 dB.

3. Miner

Any job that involves the use of power tools or machinery is going to also involve a significant level of noise, and mining is no exception. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention explains that a study conducted in the U.S found that 40% of staff working in coal mines were exposed to noises above 90 dB on a regular basis. Noise levels can actually get as high as 135 dB.  

In South Africa, where mining is a substantial industry, efforts are being made to reduce the amount of noise miners are exposed to. The Department of Mineral Resources has set the noise exposure limit for mine workers at 85 dB as part of their hearing conservation programme.

2. Formula One driver

Even watching Formula One races on television live can be exceptionally loud, so actually sitting in the cockpit of the car can be, quite literally, deafening! Luckily, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and other drivers are equipped with top of the range protective gear to protect them from sounds that can reach up to 135 dB - the same as underground mining.

1. Airport ground control staff

Being an air traffic controller has the potential to be the absolute worst job for your ears. If you're part of the team working on the ground at the airport, you're definitely at a high risk of noise-induced hearing loss. The noises from planes landing and taking off can measure up to a whopping 140 dB, Audicus explains.

Read more:

Misophonia: when sounds drive you crazy

Can deaf people 'hear' voices

What's lurking in your ear?


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Hearing Expert

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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