The Savvy VetTech

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Can You Hear Me Now?! Protect Your Hearing While Working as a Vet Tech

by Cathy Barnette - May 17, 2021 9:05:00 AM
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IconsVTPBarking dogs are loud; there’s no doubt about that! Whether your practice includes a large-scale boarding facility or only contains a few kennels to house surgical and hospitalized patients, every practice has areas that become noisy at times.

Any time you have dogs barking in a confined area, especially when surrounded by concrete, stainless steel, and other surfaces that don’t absorb sound very well, you can expect large amounts of noise. 

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Can Kennel Noise Damage Your Hearing?

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According to guidelines established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employees subjected to noise levels at or above 85 decibels (dB) when averaged over an eight-hour workday should be covered by a hearing protection program.1 These employees need ear plugs or other ear protection, in order to prevent hearing loss, because all-day exposure to sounds at or above 85 dB can be hazardous. 

As sound levels increase, the amount of time that you can be safely exposed to these sounds decreases. Additionally, the relationship between sound levels (in decibels) and safe listening times is not linear! While you can safely be exposed to 85 dB for up to eight hours, the safe listening time is cut in half for every 3 dB above 85 dB. Therefore, the safe exposure time for 88 dB is four hours, the safe exposure time for 91 dB is two hours, the safe exposure time for 94 dB is one hour, and the safe exposure time for 97 dB is just thirty minutes.2

So, how loud is an average dog kennel? One study examined this issue from an animal welfare perspective (not a workplace safety perspective), examining noise levels in research laboratories, shelters, and training facilities. The researchers found that while 24-hr sound averages often fell between 65-100 dB, daytime levels (when employees were in the building and more dogs were awake and active) often exceeded 100 dB and even reached 125 decibels!3

Clearly, the sound of barking dogs in a veterinary kennel area (especially in a practice that offers boarding) is enough to potentially cause hearing damage. Therefore, it’s important to take steps to protect your hearing while working in loud kennel areas.  

Ways to Protect Your Hearing

As an employee, your ability to enact changes to protect your hearing may be limited. It’s important to do what you can, however, and talk to your employer about possible big-picture solutions.

1. Wear hearing protection

If your job requires you to regularly work in a loud kennel area, use hearing protection equipment. There are a variety of options available, ranging from ear plugs to noise-cancelling headphones. Talk to your employer and coworkers about why you will be wearing hearing protection in certain areas of the hospital and work to brainstorm solutions for how your coworkers can get your attention if necessary.

2. Brainstorm ways to keep kennel dogs more calm

Dogs are more likely to bark when they’re stressed. When dogs are housed in your practice’s kennel area, consider separating them so they cannot see each other. Place noisy dogs at the ends of walkways, so that you aren’t forced to walk past them multiple times per day. Consider pheromones, classical music, and other calming measures to decrease dog stress levels. Anything you can do to decrease stress levels is likely to decrease barking.

3. Talk to the practice owner or manager about other changes

It’s unlikely that your practice will receive a major renovation just for the purpose of minimizing kennel noise. (If possible, however, that’s the ideal solution! Having multiple small rooms, with each fully sound-proofed, is a much quieter option than a single large, open kennel area.) Instead, consider low-tech options. Most materials used in kennels are used for their waterproof properties, which means they don’t absorb sound effectively. Maybe your practice management would be willing to invest in sound baffles (which hang from tall ceilings) or acoustic panels (which hang on the wall) to help absorb sound. If that isn’t an option, consider adding curtains, blankets, rugs, and other fabrics to absorb sound. Even these low-tech solutions can help decrease sound levels in the kennel. 

Don’t Take Your Hearing for Granted

While it’s easy to think of hearing loss as something that only happens to other people, the reality is that daily noise exposure at work can have long-term consequences for you. When you’re beginning to look for your first job as a vet tech, take note of the noise levels in various practices and consider ruling out practices that are extremely noisy. If you do find yourself working in an especially loud environment, take proactive steps to protect your hearing and minimize noise levels in the practice. 

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  1. Occupational Noise Exposure. OSHA. 
  2. Loud Noise Dangers. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
  3. Sales G, et al. (1997). Noise in dog kennelling: Is barking a welfare problem for dogs? Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 52:3-4, pp. 321-32

About Cathy Barnette

Cathy Barnette is a practicing small animal veterinarian, freelance writer, and contributor to XPrep Learning Solutions. She is passionate about both veterinary medicine and education, working to provide helpful information to veterinary teams and the general public. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature with her family and leading a Girl Scout troop.

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