BAC Journal > Did You Hear That?

Did You Hear That?

2012 Issue 2

Masonry r2p Partnership Makes Hearing Protection a Priority


If you find yourself frequently answering "no" when asked "did you hear that" you may be suffering from hearing loss. Hearing loss can be caused by a one-time exposure to an extremely loud noise, such as an explosion, or gradually by prolonged exposure such as that which occurs daily on construction sites. One study of construction workers, found that among bricklayers, for example, roughly 58% suffered from noise-induced hearing loss and another study documented that the risk of hearing loss increases the longer a person works in construction.
Discussions with the BAC Labor-Management Craft Committees and surveys of BAC members and contractors undertaken by BAC, ICE and IMI through the Masonry Research to Practice [r2p] Partnership, found that although BAC contractors routinely provide hearing protection only 30% of members said that it is "always" used. In addition, the surveys found that many members do not realize they should use hearing protection even when they are not engaged in the noise-producing task.


Use the Right Hearing Protection

Noise is measured in decibels.  The decibel scale is not linear.  Each increase of 3 decibels doubles the noise, meaning that 100 decibels is almost 10 times as loud as 90 decibels. OSHA says workers should not be exposed to more than 90 decibels on average over an 8-hour work shift (and NIOSH recommends 85). 

To prevent hearing loss, use low noise equipment, move away from the noise, or use the right protection:

  • Ear plugs (disposable, reusable, or custom molded)
  • Canal caps (can be quickly put on and taken off)
  • Ear muffs (easy to use, fit and keep clean)

Check the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) on the product or packaging label.  The University of Washington School of Public Health suggests the following for most activities:

Bricklayer:                           22 decibel NRR 
Masonry Restoration:       26 decibel NRR

Check Your Hearing

Take the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders test "Ten Ways To Recognize Hearing Loss" at

Or use this simple self-test:

  1. In the morning turn on your TV or car radio so it is just barely loud enough for you to hear.  Without changing the sound level turn it off. 
  2. At the end of the workday, turn the television or car radio back on without adjusting the sound.
  3. If you need to turn the sound up, you may have suffered some hearing damage.


Take these simple steps to prevent hearing loss:

  1. Wear hearing protection provided by your employer – if your employer does not provide hearing protection ask for it. OSHA says, "Your employer is responsible for selecting, fitting, and maintaining hearing protective devices and must provide them to you at no cost and train you on their use... Neither portable music player headphones nor hearing aids are substitutes for hearing protective devices."
  2. Follow the directions for using the protection provided.
  3. Use hearing protection whenever you are in a noisy situation – on the job or at home – even if you are not the person generating the noise.
    If you have to raise your voice to talk with a co-worker who is 2 to 3 feet away, you probably need hearing protection, and if you are using one of the following tools, you need protection: Chipping gun, Grinder, Circular saw, Hand power saw, Concrete joint cutter, and Large power tools.