If you spend lots time working in a noisy environment, you may be at risk of hearing loss. This is because exposure to loud noises can permanently damage your hearing, resulting in Noise Induced Hearing Loss, or NIHL. This often affects people who spend time working with noisy equipment, such as pneumatic drills, power tools and loud machinery.
Factors that can influence hearing loss include how much noise you are exposed to, how long you are exposed to it for and if you wear suitable hearing protection.
Hearing loss can be sudden when exposed to a sudden, extremely loud noise or gradual when exposed to loud noise over a period of time.
With hearing damage you may find that hearing conversations becomes more difficult, or even impossible. Your family may complain that the television is turned up too loud.
You may also find it difficult to catch certain sounds like ‘t’,‘d’, or ‘s’ and you may confuse similar words. So words like ‘track’ may be heard as ‘rack’.
Hearing people over the telephone can also be a struggle and you may notice you start to favour one ear as it is easier for you to hear. You may also notice a ringing, buzzing or humming noise in your ears when in a quiet place.
A way to tell if the noise around you is too loud is to try this test. If you have to shout at people about two metres away, this could mean that the noise levels are high and so could potentially damage your hearing.
Hearing loss through exposure to noise is preventable but once your hearing is lost it won’t come back. There are ways that you can help to protect your hearing at work:
- Make sure that you do what is asked of you by following any work practices, for example working in and around exclusion zones
- Limit the amount of time that you spend doing noisy jobs
- Choose the best type of hearing protection for your needs
- Always wear your ear plugs or defenders when you are expected to, and wear them correctly
- Look after your hearing protection and ensure that it is well maintained
- Keep the noise down at home too – think about the volume on your TV, car radio and headphones. Wear protection when riding motorbikes or when you may be doing DIY at home
- You must attend health surveillance appointments when requested to do so. These appointments are not optional and focus on spotting signs of hearing loss early to prevent further problems.
If you do have any concerns, tell your line manager as soon as a problem is noticed.
If you are diagnosed with hearing loss ,the damage to your hearing may be permanent and you could further expect your hearing to gradually deteriorate with age. It is important to take action to prevent further hearing loss from happening as much as possible.
Occupational health will give your line manager appropriate workplace recommendations on your fitness for work and your ability to work in noisy conditions in the future. Depending on the level of hearing impairment, it may not always be necessary to remove you from working in a noisy environment.
There are quite a few factors to take into consideration when your hearing is assessed and these include: would you be able to hear warning signals and verbal instructions, could you hear a conversation over the telephone and communicate with your colleagues when in meetings or in noisy environments? In some circumstances, for instance when your poor hearing may cause a danger to you or others or the work environment is very noisy; you may be removed from such work. Your hearing won’t recover, but this may prevent any further damage.
If you are diagnosed with hearing loss, you will need to protect the hearing that you do have, so you must continue to wear your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as and when required.
Occupational health may also see you on a more regular basis to ensure that your hearing isn’t deteriorating too much over time.
Health surveillance, or hearing checks, are used to spot any effects that a noisy working environment may have on you. If you are exposed to high levels of noise, you will be expected to attend hearing checks at regular intervals to monitor your hearing. These appointments will give you the opportunity to talk to a healthcare professional who can give you advice on noise and how it may affect your hearing.
It is important that you attend these appointments so that any early signs of damage can be detected. Legislation details what health surveillance must be carried out and it is your duty as an employee to attend when requested. If you do notice any hearing loss symptoms, or have any concerns, then you should contact your line manager as soon as possible.