In the UK, hearing loss is a common work-related injury in specific industries. Over the last three years, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) has estimated that there were approximately 11,000 cases of hearing problems caused or exacerbated by work each year.
It’s a severe problem that can impact an employee’s overall quality of life, job performance, and even safety in the workplace. As an employer, it’s essential to understand the risks of hearing loss and the steps you can take to prevent it from happening.
Understanding Hearing Loss
Hearing loss occurs when the auditory system is damaged, preventing sound signals from reaching the brain. Exposure to loud noises is one of the most common causes of hearing loss in the workplace. Prolonged exposure to sounds above 85 decibels can cause irreversible hearing damage, leading to permanent hearing loss.
There are two types of hearing loss: conductive and sensorineural. Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves are not conducted effectively through the outer and middle ears. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the hair cells in the inner ear or the auditory nerve. Both types of hearing loss can be caused by workplace noise exposure.
Impact of Hearing Loss on Workplace Safety
Hearing loss can significantly impact workplace safety. Employees with hearing loss may need help communicating effectively with their colleagues, which can lead to misunderstandings and mistakes. They may also have difficulty hearing warning signals and alarms, which can be dangerous in high-risk work environments.
In addition to communication and situational awareness, hearing loss can affect an employee’s overall job performance. Employees with hearing loss may need help to hear instructions or participate in team meetings, decreasing productivity and job satisfaction.
HSE Guidelines for Noise in the Workplace
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) serves as the national regulator in Britain for ensuring health and safety in workplaces. Recent HSE regulations require employers to protect workers from noise-related health and safety risks. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Noise Regulations 2005) mandates employers to assess risks to employee health caused by noise at work and take action to reduce noise exposure.
Employers must provide hearing protection if noise exposure cannot be reduced enough. The regulations ensure that legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded and that employees receive information, instruction, and training.
Employers must also conduct health surveillance when necessary. These regulations aim to prevent or reduce the risks to health and safety caused by exposure to noise at work, and both employers and employees have duties under the laws.
Best Practices for Employers
Preventing workplace hearing loss is critical for employee safety and job performance. Here are some best practices for employers to follow:
Conduct noise monitoring: Regular monitoring can help identify work areas where noise levels exceed the recommended threshold. This information can reduce noise exposure by relocating noisy equipment or implementing noise barriers.
Provide hearing protection devices: Hearing protection devices, such as earplugs and earmuffs, can help protect employees’ hearing in noisy work environments. It’s essential to provide employees with hearing protection devices that are comfortable and fit well.
Educate employees: Providing education and training on the risks of hearing loss and the importance of using hearing protection devices can help prevent hearing loss in the workplace. Employees should also be trained to use and maintain hearing protection devices properly.
Make accommodations: Employers should accommodate employees with hearing loss, such as providing assistive listening devices and ensuring that communication is clear and compelling. This can help employees with hearing loss perform their job duties safely and effectively.
Hearing loss is a severe issue that can impact workplace safety, productivity, and employee satisfaction. As an employer, it’s essential to prevent hearing loss in the workplace by implementing a hearing conservation program, providing hearing protection devices, and educating employees on the risks of hearing loss. Employers can create a safer and more productive work environment for all employees by prioritising workplace safety and taking proactive steps to prevent hearing loss.
If you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Early treatment can help prevent further hearing loss and improve the overall quality of life. Our team of experienced professionals can provide comprehensive hearing evaluations and personalised treatment plans to meet your unique needs. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and take the first step towards better hearing health.