Keep Your Workers' Hearing Safe - Noise Induced Hearing Loss
It’s so easy to take being able to hear for granted. From the unfortunate sound of hearing your alarm ring in the morning, to the general day-to-day communication with your family and colleagues, to listening to your favourite tune, it’s thoroughly engrained into our existence.
This is the precise reason that workers in noisy environments need to take their ear protection seriously. Unlike a hand injury or a fall, damaging your hearing can't instantly be recognised, instead, it's a gradual degeneration over time.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
With an estimated 21,000 workers suffering from work-related hearing problems, NIHL is a significant occupational health issue. (source: HSE)
So what exactly is it?
NIHL is a permanent hearing loss caused by prolonged exposure to high levels of noise. NIHL is a gradual process of deterioration and sadly, often by the time we are aware of the problem it is too late. It can take 10-20 years for long-term damage to become apparent.
Industries with the most reported new cases of hearing loss are: manufacturing, construction and extraction, energy and water supply
- A ringing or buzzing sensation in the ears known as tinnitus
- Difficulty hearing a conversation against a noisy background
- Loss of audibility, perceived as an overall decrease in volume
- Selective frequency loss which causes “distortion" or "clarity loss". For example, the sounds "s" and "t" are often difficult to hear, thus affecting clarity of speech.
Industries With Most Reported New Cases
The sad news is, once you have NIHL there's no going back. It's a permanent and irreversible condition. However, there's good news too! It's straightforward to prevent in the first place. So let’s take action!
Implementing Hearing Protection
Hearing protection shouldn't be used instead of controlling noise by technical and organisational means.
However, hearing protection should be issued to employees:
- Where extra protection is needed above measures put in place for noise control.
- As a short-term solution while other methods of controlling noise are being developed.
Requirements Under The Control of Noise At Work Regulations 2005
- Between the lower and upper exposure action values: provide employees with hearing protection if they ask for it.
- Above upper exposure action values: provide employees with suitable hearing protection.
- Provide employees with training and information on how to use and care for the hearing protection.
- Identify zones where use of hearing protection is compulsory, put signage up where possible and limit access to only workers who need to be in there at any given time.
- Ensure that all hearing protection is properly used and maintained.
Compatibility With PPE and the worker
Many workplaces recommend giving operatives a choice of suitable head protection as different types work better for different people and scenarios.
The compatibility of the hearing protection with other protective equipment such as hard hats, dust masks and eye protection also needs to be considered.
More on hearing...
Read our specialist guide all about Hearing Protection to find out more.