Hearing loss: protect workers to prevent problems

Hearing loss: protect workers to prevent problems

Hearing loss is common and is likely to occur as we get older. However, noise-induced hearing loss can be preventable, particularly when exposure to noise is in the workplace.

Over five million working-age people in the UK have some level of hearing loss and many are reluctant to inform their current employer or potential employers when looking for a new role.

Symptoms of hearing loss
Common signs that you or someone you know may be losing their hearing (NHS, 2022) include:

  • difficulty hearing other people clearly and misunderstanding what they say, especially in noisy places
  • asking people to repeat themselves
  • listening to music or watching TV with the volume higher than other people need
  • difficulty hearing on the phone
  • finding it hard to keep up with a conversation
  • feeling tired or stressed from having to concentrate while listening.

Impact of hearing loss on workers
Hearing loss doesn’t just affect the individual; it can also have major implications for people who work with them. For example, aside from the obvious frustration of an affected colleague being unable to hear a conversation or instruction clearly, the chances of a workplace accident occurring in a three-month period doubles from 2.4% to 4.8% if a person has increased hearing loss.

The impact of hearing loss also impacts on the wider job market. Research suggests almost three quarters of people with hearing loss felt their employment opportunities were limited; over two thirds sometimes felt isolated; and two fifths had retired early due to the impact of their hearing loss.

What occupations are most at risk of hearing loss?
Whilst anyone who works in a noisy environment is at risk of damaging or losing their hearing, jobs which typically involve operating loud machinery are the most common occupations associated with hearing loss.

High-risk industries include:

  • factories and foundries
  • engineering
  • car manufacturing
  • road drilling
  • construction
  • aviation
  • metal plating.

How to control the risks and protect workers
Employers have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of their employees and this includes their hearing, particularly due to the wider implications of hearing loss in the workplace in the present and the future health implications.

For instance, many sufferers who experience permanent hearing damage only become aware when it is too late. If their employer failed to adequately protect their hearing whilst at work then employees may have a right to claim they were the victim of negligence in the workplace. Noise-induced hearing loss is the second most common reason for employers’ liability insurance claims for occupational health.

The HSE explains that to ensure potential risks caused by noise are controlled, employers should understand the most effective way ‘by technical and organisational means reducing noise at source’. They also suggest that upon purchase of any new equipment, quieter machines are preferable and hearing protection, whilst a last resort, can be effective in preventing deafness. Workers should also be provided with sufficient information and training for the use of noisy equipment.

Occupational health
Any hearing protection programmes should be supported by appropriate health surveillance which include audiometry screening tests which are performed to monitor the effects of noise of workers’ hearing.

It is advisable that that all new employees are provided with audiometry screening to allow the reporting of any existing symptoms and to record hearing levels prior to working in an environment in which they may be exposed to high levels of noise.

If you have a question about hearing tests or would like to book audiometry screening, contact us via email: info@mohs.co.uk or phone: 0121 601 4041.

Sources: Oticon (2022); NHS (2022); HSE (2022); IOSH (2021); RNID (2020)