It is an unfortunate fact that many people don’t realise how impaired their hearing has become due to workplace noise until the impairment is well advanced and becomes noticeable through, for instance, the need to have the TV or radio volume higher or as a difficulty in hearing normal conversations. The severity of the damage to an employee’s hearing usually relates to the level of the noise and duration of the exposure to it. Noise Induced Hearing Loss is often permanent and although further hearing loss can be avoided by removing the effected person from further exposure to harmful noise levels, the damage has been done and the harsh truth is that it was completely avoidable.
The fact that hearing loss is still all too often work related is mainly because on starting a job which features a noisy working environment, most employees quickly normalise the noise factor, treating it as just another aspect of their working environment and not something that needs changing or avoiding. This response might not be challenged by their co-workers or contradicted by the health and safety culture (or lack of it) of their company and it will only be several years down the line that the damage to their hearing will become apparent and question asked, ‘why didn’t my boss warn me about the noise?’.
Had of course that boss carried out their legal duty to provide a safe working environment and ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees, the hearing of all their workers would have been preserved intact and they wouldn’t have to be taking hit after hit on their Employers Liability Insurance to cover personal injury claims for compensation from angry and hearing impaired employees and ex-employees. Preventing employees from going deaf at work is, of course, not beyond the wit of man and a competently written health and safety strategy and rigorously implemented risk management plan would have prevented the issue arising in the first place. The steps to managing the risks associated with noise-induced hearing loss are straight forward and do not extend much beyond basic common sense. They include:
• Avoiding noisy processes or the use of noisy machines.
• The use of engineering solutions to reduce the noise of machines and tools and processes that can’t be avoided.
• The use of materials to form sound reducing barriers between noisy machines/processes and employees.
• Ensuring that employees’ hearing isn’t being adversely affected by workplace noise by providing hearing tests for them at regular intervals.
• Limiting the amount of time employees are exposed to harmful noise levels.
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