Did you know that, according to the Health and Safety Executive, approximately 170,000 people in the UK suffer from deafness and ringing in the ears – which is caused by excessive noise in the workplace? If you work in an environment that has excessive noise levels, you could be doing permanent damage to your hearing.
The tiny hairs and bones within the inner ear are very small, delicate and sensitive and excess noise can cause them damage. When the inner ear is damaged by excessive noise, this damage is permanent and irreversible. The damage can cause hearing loss, as well as tinnitus – which is a condition that creates a constant ringing in the ears.
The Employer’s Responsibility
It is the responsibility of the employer to take certain actions in order to protect the hearing of their employees. This includes appropriate noise courses, information and hearing protection (PPE). Employers should monitor the noise levels within the workplace in order to make sure that they are not reaching levels that are unsafe for workers.
Hearing loss caused by excessive noise at work can have a major effect on the lives and well-being of staff. It can affect their balance, quality of life and communication with others in their life.
Certain Industries More At Risk
When it comes to occupational hearing loss, there are some occupations that are at greater risk than others for causing hearing loss. Some examples of this include construction, mining and farming. Also, musicians, roadies, back up dancers and others who work in the concert and event industry are also at risk. Bartenders who work in loud dance clubs and busy pubs can also be at risk for occupational hearing loss. Other occupations that are at risk include engineering, wood working, road repair, demolition, textile manufacturing and canning or working at a bar or club.
You will be more at risk in your workplace if the noise is intrusive for most of the working day, such as a loud piece of machinery, a busy street or a crowded restaurant. If you have to raise your voice in order for a co-worker to hear you when they are less than two metres away, this is a warning sign that the noise in the workplace is too loud. Also, if you work with hammers, drop forges pneumatic impact tools or any explosive detonators – these can be dangerous to your hearing as well. If you are in an at-risk workplace, talk to your employer about the health and safety procedures that they are using to protect your hearing.
Are You Already Experiencing Hearing Loss?
Perhaps you have already started to experience hearing loss from your job. You might find that you are asking people to repeat themselves and it is difficult to follow a conversation. Also, your family members say that you always have the television or the radio turned up very loud – but it sounds normal to you. You might also find it difficult to talk on the telephone and you mishear sounds like “T”, “S” and “D” so you sometimes confuse similar words. In some cases, if you are suffering from work related hearing loss you might notice humming, buzzing, whistling or ringing in your ears.
If you are noticing these symptoms, it is very important to see your doctor and get a hearing check up to assess the damage to your ears. Also, it is crucial to let your employer know so that they can address the risks in your work environment and make the changes necessary to protect you from further damage. Hearing damage can affect your quality of life and although you can use hearing aids and implants to recover some of your hearing, the damage can never be repaired and your hearing will never naturally return.
How to Reduce the Risk of Occupational Hearing Loss
What are the steps that should be taken in the workplace in order to reduce the risks of occupational hearing loss? Here are some tips that all employers should consider putting into place:
- Noise exposure should be reduced at the source it at all possible. For example, equipment should be better maintained, acoustic screens should be installed and noisy equipment can be relocated to remote locations.
- Hearing protection should be provided for any employees who are exposed to a noise that is louder than 80 decibels.
- All hearing protection should fit properly, function well and should be of good quality.
- Employers should provide their employees with staying safe with noise training and information about hearing loss prevention in the workplace. Also, employees should always know where to obtain ear protection and how and when to wear it.
- Employers should also perform regular hearing checks in order to monitor the health of their employees. The employees should be informed about the results of their hearing checks. If hearing damage is identified, employees should be examined by a doctor.
- Employees should co-operate with all hearing related health and safety regulations and use any noise control devices that are supplied by the employer.
- Also, employees should take responsibility for attending hearing checks and always wearing the hearing protection that they are given. It should be worn properly and worn all the time when doing noisy work.
- It is the responsibility of the employee to report any problems with the hearing protection device right away to the supervisor, as well as reporting any ear trouble.
- Give yourself a break from noise. At home, turn off the music and television and sit in silence for a while so that your ears can rest – or go for a walk in the quiet and peaceful woods.
These are just a few of the ways that you can reduce your risk of occupational hearing loss in the workplace.
It is important for both supervisors and employees to have the right noise training that is appropriate to the position, so that they can be aware of hearing loss risks.