The Importance Of Protecting Against Hearing Loss In The Workplace

2013-08-26 | |
Last updated: 2014-11-25

Hearing loss is an extremely common disability. In fact, 50% of the population will develop an issue with their hearing over time. Most people believe this to be due to old age but age is not the only cause. Instead, excessive noise as a result of the work environment is one of the more common causes of hearing loss. Unfortunately, many people will have worked in environments that exceed the safe noise levels.

Most people believe that only extreme sounds have the capability to lead to deafness but this is not correct. Noise levels are measured in decibels (dB) and noises over 85dB have the potential to damage hearing. However, vacuum cleaners regularly reach this level so you can image that there are plenty of professions where workers are exposed levels of noise that easily exceed this volume. If workers in affected professions are not protected, they will most likely develop deafness from these industrial sources.

That is not say that a person in the home cleaning the carpets with the vaccuum is risking their hearing by doing chores. Exposure to noises of 85dB would take a significant period of time to lead to hearing issues. Instead, it is the people working in environments like this for hours a day, every day, all year. The louder the sound, the shorter the period of exposure needed to cause deafness. From research, the following values have been observed:

· A sound of 85dB takes 8 hours to lead to hearing loss
· A sound of 90dB takes 4 hours to lead to hearing loss
· A sound of 95dB takes 2 hours to lead to hearing loss
· A sound of 100dB takes 1 hour to lead to hearing loss
· A sound of 105dB takes 30 mins to lead to hearing loss
· A sound of 110dB takes 15 mins to lead to hearing loss

Based on these figures, with every 5dB increase in sound, the time needed to cause deafness is halved. This means a person could damage their hearing in a matter of minutes working with a chainsaw of 110 decibels.

In some industries noise is always going to be a factor. Certain measures need to be applied to avoid a person being exposed to these noises. This is usually done in two ways; restricting the noise at its source and by using personal protection.

· Addressing the noise at its origin should be the first action. This way there is less risk of accidental exposure. To do this, methods such as sound proofing, lubrication of machinery, new methods, remote control and new equipment are often required. For those of us working, in noisy environments, we should always be aware of whether our employers taking such steps. Of course, sometimes restrictions prevent this from being possible.
· Personal protection should only be used in the short term or while the above is being implemented. There are two main forms of protection; ear plugs and ear muffs. Each has their uses. Ear plugs are light and small so are used for longer periods of use but they don’t offer the highest level of protection. Ear muffs offer a higher level of protection but are large and cumbersome so are often used for shorter periods of time.
When these steps are not taken or are done incorrectly, people without hearing protection will develop noise induced hearing loss sooner or later. Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is caused due to damage done to the small inner ear hairs. These small hairs no longer react as well to the vibrations in the air that we hear as sound and thus the ears pick up less of the sound. Other forms of hearing loss can also affect these hairs but noise induced deafness has one very distinguishable symptom; only the hearing sensitivity to high frequency sounds is affected. This will mean that people with such hearing loss will struggle with women’s voices, the TV and door bells. Other forms of hearing loss will affect the hearing from the low end to the high end more evenly.

This measurable difference in hearing loss is why people who have worked in noisy environments are able to seek hearing loss compensation; a hearing test will prove that they are suffering from noise induced loss. Knowing this can also be a means of allowing a person to understand what may be causing any observed loss of hearing.

Many employers and professions now follow the regulations set by health and safety law so a tree surgeon using a chainsaw would never be without ear muffs. The same is true for people working in many factories. Unfortunately though, there are some jobs that still pose a risk such as the case of bar/club workers due to the loud music played.

Written by Chris Evans who is an authority on workers’ health. His aim is to give guidance to help avoid injury and illness at work. He currently writes for Atrium Legal who are Industrial Disease experts.

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Category: Disease Prevention, General Health, Health Risks

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