Top tips to protect people’s hearing at work

Top tips to protect people’s hearing at work

To hear for life, listen with care – especially at work, writes Dr Karen Michell, research programme lead of occupational health at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

Occupational exposure to noise is a significant contributor to hearing loss and happens in almost all work settings to varying degrees. The severity is dependent on factors such as the frequency (Hz) of the noise, loudness (dB), and duration of exposure. This can be exacerbated outside of work, for example, by going to nightclubs or in hobbies such as DIY. Other contributing factors may include ageing, some illnesses and diseases, as well as some medications.

Poorly controlled workplace exposures and the lack of training provided to workers can result in noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which is the world’s fifth leading cause of disability adjusted life years (DALYs) globally.

DALYs refer to the number of years of full health lost due to disability and NIHL represents a total of 8,16 million – or 9,1% – of all DALYs. So, what can we do to prevent NIHL?

IOSH’s tips for employers

  • Conduct noise surveys, compile noise maps, and communicate these to your workers so they are clear on where the risks lie.
  • Prevent exposure at source (enclose machines rather than relying on the use of hearing protection devices). A three decibel drop in noise halves the impact on hearing health, making this small change significant in terms of hearing loss.
  • Ensure workers are provided with the correct hearing protection devices where needed, trained on the correct usage, and that usage is enforced.
  • Educate workers on the risks of exposure to noise and the impacts it may have on their quality of life (for example, impaired communication).
  • Offer better protection to workers identified with hearing losses. Customised hearing protection prevents further deterioration, especially in the early stages of hearing loss. These workers should be monitored more regularly and, if loss continues, consideration should be given to moving them out of a noise zone.

IOSH’s top tips for workers

  • Early warning signs are subtle and need to be actioned earlier rather than later. These include ringing in the ears, inability to hear soft sounds, muffling of speech and other sounds, trouble understanding conversation, having to concentrate while listening, and the need to turn up the volume on devices. Speak to your occupational safety and health (OSH) professional if you are concerned.
  • Familiarise yourself with the noise zones at work and comply with all legal instructions provided by your employer, for example wearing hearing protection in a noise zone.
  • Participate in hearing screening tests, so that you know how you are being affected by noise.
  • Use your hearing protection correctly and, if damaged or misplaced, ensure prompt replacement. Raise any concerns or problems with the OSH professional in your workplace.
  • Manage your environmental exposure where possible to further protect your hearing health. This includes using hearing protection at home when using noisy tools and equipment.

Hearing loss prevention and future disability depend on actions taken today. Both employers and workers must take responsibility to protect hearing and prevent hearing losses. Take care today, so that you can hear tomorrow.

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