The painless but life-changing injury costing businesses millions, every year.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is, according to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the most common occupational disease in Europe. HSE suggest that over 2 million people in the UK are exposed to a harmful level of noise at work.

The most recent HSE data from the Labour Force Survey is from the period affected by the pandemic, suggesting that 11,000 employees per year suffer hearing loss caused or made worse by work. However pre-Covid these figures were 21,000 per year. Unfortunately, by the time your employees notice that their hearing has been affected, it is too late to rectify the damage. Millions are already spent every year by insurance companies on occupational deafness claims and the amount is growing.

In the first of our series of articles on how to counter hearing loss in the workplace, we look at the effect that hearing issues can have, not just on future health, but on your business too.

In our generally noisy society, it takes surprisingly little noise to affect our hearing. The table below shows how noises we might regard as ordinary every-day hazards can become dangerous. Compare these noises to those in your workplace, bearing in mind that the longer a loud noise is sustained, the more damage it will cause.

Sound Levels of example common noises

30 Whispered voice Sounds at these levels generally cause no hearing damage
40 Refrigerator hum
60 Normal conversation
70 Dishwasher

85 Heavy city traffic, a crowded restaurant Noises above 70 decibels over a prolonged period of time may start to harm your hearing
95 Hair dryer, lawnmower

100 Fork-lift truck, motorcycle Loud noise above 120 decibels can cause immediate harm to your ears. Sounds at this level could immediately cause pain and ear injury
110 Chain saw, rock concert, hammer drill
115 Sandblasting, pneumatic drill
120 Ambulance siren
140-165 Fireworks, firearms

Even if you have supplied your employees with effective hearing protection, there may be good reasons that they remove or avoid wearing it. The ability to hear essential workplace communication and to have complete situational awareness in a hazardous environment is vital too, so blocking sound completely is often as dangerous as having no protection at all. But removing their protective equipment may leave workers exposed to sounds well into that red danger zone.

First signs of damage

The first symptom of damage could be a difficulty in detecting soft or high-pitched sounds. This is an indication that the stereocilla – the delicate hair cells that convert sound waves into electrical signals within the ear – have sustained harm. This might make it difficult for you to hear adequately in a noisy restaurant, or to catch a high-pitched child’s voice. Ringing in your ears, otherwise known as tinnitus, is another signal symptom.

The cost to your business

Aside from lost productivity, the cost to businesses is potentially huge. UK Claim lawyers suggest that even mild tinnitus alone, without hearing loss, can result in a claim of around £11,720. This is just a starting point; total deafness could result in claims against your business of around £140,000.

Hearing loss is only the start of the problem

Damage to your hearing is not only about the effect on what you can hear, but the ramifications of impaired communication on the rest of your life, including educational and job opportunities, social ability and emotional issues following a drop in self-esteem and confidence.

Physical effects:

Evidence now points to damaged hearing and the resulting issues being a major contributary factor in medical issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, sleep disturbance and cognitive decline, such as Alzheimers. A recent study of 82,000 men and women by Oxford University research puts the increased risk at 91%. In recent research from John Hopkins, it was found that even moderate hearing loss tripled the risk of dementia. Sufferers may also experience balance issues; the ear picks up subtle cues which help maintain stability and these can be muted with hearing loss, leading to clumsiness and fall risk.

Psychological effects:

Psychologists report that developing hearing loss in later life is an extremely disorientating experience, requiring a huge adjustment. People suffering in this way often report an identity crisis, frequently experience depression and have been shown to go through the five stages of grief in mourning for their lost sense. It should be noted that compensation lawyers are now including psychological damage as part of their claims against hearing loss in the workplace.

Prevention, not cure

It’s time to look to technology to find ways to not only protect against noise exposure, but to also understand how to manage the risk in your workplace. With a combination of prevention and re-assessment of the root cause, businesses could significantly limit the future waiting timebomb of medical issues and hearing loss liability claims.

Anchor Safety can help you with fully assessing and managing the risk to your employees. Using advanced noise analytics and newly developed hearing protection, you can use data to understand the effect of noise in your workplace and use a quantifiable process to reduce this at the same time as ensuring on-site communication and total awareness of situation.

If you would like advice on how your business could use technology to reduce noise exposure and protect your workforce, call our knowledgeable Anchor Safety Customer Care team on 0800 328 5028.

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