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Can You Hear That Train A Comin’?



Jukebox Leigh, 2013

While Leigh sings Johnny Cash and other classics we need to keep in mind how important our hearing is with respect to work safety and overall health.

Sometimes our inner rock star compels us to boost the volume control right to “11” because we just can’t get enough of the power from a great tune. But, whenever you boost the volume that high, just like Kenny Logins once sang on the Days of Thunder soundtrack, it’s a “Highway to the Danger Zone!” High decibels can damage your precious ears permanently and all it might take is the wrong kind of exposure even just once. That is correct…once!

Decibels (dB)

Powerful sounds present similar concerns for the musician as it does for railway workers of all kinds. But, it’s not only the decibels that might hurt you, it’s the powerful vibrations from machinery and the duration to consider. Let’s face it, these transportation behemoths pack a great big punch in order to move large cargo. A normal conversation is just 60 decibels (dB), but a rock concert at 110 decibels becomes risky, especially if the exposure is prolonged. Just sitting next to a running blender in the kitchen is difficult and can be painful – you certainly wouldn’t do it for very long. That morning smoothie may be great for your heart health, but those 90 decibels definitely carry some risk, and right in your own home! And, we have all heard about how a jet engine at take off (140 dB) can be injurious and painful. Surely, the same high level of decibels can be found somewhere on the railway site? Think of all the different kinds of railway noises and vibration that can happen there – construction or operation of a railway, or passing trains, idling locomotives, shunting, and from the compression or “stretching” of trains. With so much diversity of sound in our lives, a person has to give the notion of ear protection at the workplace – where we spend a lot of time – some serious thought. *Please give it some thought for every facet of your life.

What About Wheel and Break Squeal?

And we haven’t even scratched the surface because railway maintenance can have an incredible impact to help lessen harsh railway noises. As an example, think about the subway operators who have to consider lubrication of the wheels, passenger load, speed, or flattened steel wheels – so many factors that create “wheel squeal”. Have a look at this interesting article about commuters who feel the need to plug their ears in the New York subway, Click Here. Many commuters are there in those tunnels everyday!

Hearing is Precious – Be Vigilant at Home and at Work!

Spending a little time to better understand some facts about hearing and ear protection is a very good idea. These resources posted below can get you started, but don’t stop there. Check to see the guidelines and regulations you should consider for your home state or province. I don’t know about you, but as a lifelong musician, I began to give it more thought and made the decision to take my hearing health more seriously. Many musicians in the news have revealed suffering some form of permanent hearing loss over many years because of abuse and not wearing protection. In fact, as a matter of my own protocol I carry with me extra ear plugs in a small case wherever I go, just in case. I have worn them at concerts, or popped them in even in the cabin of an airplane. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to rely upon them. Here are a couple of resources to get you started to learn more about hearing safety.

  • Government of Canada’s Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, on Occupational Exposure Limits in Canada, Click Here.
  • Canadian Transportation Agency, Click Here.

In this day and age, the technology is getting more sophisticated when it comes to ear protection. I am going to use the musician analogy again. Musicians on stage need to protect their hearing from damaging sound and noise vibration, yet they still require to hear other generated music signals. So, a lot has been done to mold earplugs that selectively block out the danger, yet still permit the music from the rest of the band to get through at a reasonable volume. There is some serious technology involved to do this that requires a visit to the audiologist who can make some custom molds for your “one-of-a-kind” ears. I am not saying that railway workers need the same equipment/technology as musicians, however, I have noted in some railway trade publications that talk about some technology being used to assist railway workers that still require to hear radio transmissions in a noise-filled environment. Blocking harsh sounds while allowing radio signals requires some assistance from technology. So, take some time to investigate the newest technological advances and also talk to experienced co-workers and your employer.


There is so much to consider with our ear health. I didn’t even talk about hand signals! Like I mentioned earlier, when it comes to noise levels and hearing health, it is a diverse environment. Whether you are at home running the lawn mower, out for dinner at a lively restaurant, or out on the railway site performing a full day’s work, you do need to think about your ear health at all times. As with musicians and air traffic controllers, there are ways to protect your hearing and enhance communication efforts. Full ear protection and a few basic hand signals may be appropriate and effective, depending on the circumstances and environment. In many work areas, we do rely on our hearing to keep us safe, so there are a few things to consider before trying to block out all sound. Investigate all your options and once you become educated, you can help others too. Leading by example is probably the best way to help those around you. Just like a donning a pair of steel toe boots, a helmet and some gloves, think about what it takes to protect your ears. As a musician, I decided years ago to make it my own personal mission to look into what was available for me. I have never regretted educating myself and I never leave home without an extra set of earplugs in my backpack for whatever may come my way.

By |2017-06-21T11:29:47+00:00November 28th, 2016|Safety|