Millions of employees in Great Britain are exposed to levels of noise at work that puts their hearing at risk. Hearing problems caused by noise at work are far too common. The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) estimates that 170,000 people in the UK suffer deafness, tinnitus, or other ear conditions as a result of exposure to excessive noise within the workplace.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Noise Regulations 2005) requires employers to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work. Employees have duties under the Regulations too. The Regulations require an employer to:
- Assess the risks to employees from noise at work;
- Take action to reduce the noise exposure that produces those risks;
- Provide employees with hearing protection if you cannot reduce the noise exposure enough by using other methods;
- Make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded;
- Provide employees with information, instruction, and training;
- Carry out health surveillance where there is a risk to health.
Occupational Health has a key role in assessing, reviewing, and managing noise levels at work. When working together (the Occupational Health provider, employers, employees, managers, and health and safety teams), everyone can contribute to noticing and controlling noise risks in the workplace.
Why regular hearing tests are essential for workplace safety and productivity
Regular hearing tests are essential for workplace safety and productivity. They make it possible to detect any hearing loss early on, which can then be monitored over time in order to prevent any further damage or injury. These tests can help employees to identify where noise levels need to be reviewed and reduced, ensuring a healthy working environment. This could include providing personal hearing protection or introducing measures to reduce noise in the workplace. In the UK the legal responsibility is to ensure that workers’ hearing is not damaged due to excessive noise exposure.
There are levels of noise exposure that must not be exceeded. These are called exposure limit values:
- daily or weekly exposure of 87 dB(A)
- peak sound pressure of 140 dB(C)
Hearing loss can also happen in an office work environment
Often we think of work noise pollution within a factory, production line, or construction. However, it is also important to consider the office environment where your employees may wear earphones/headphones, either for work calls or to listen to music. If these are used for prolonged periods of time, and at a high volume, these can affect their hearing. Regular hearing tests for all employees are important, to ensure their ears are not being damaged due to their work.
The benefits of having a baseline hearing test before work begins
Having a baseline hearing test carried out during an employee’s induction is a great way to ensure that any damage or deterioration in hearing can be traced back to the workplace environment. This will also help employers identify any potential risks and take steps to reduce them, thus reducing the chances of any employee sustaining an injury. But it is also important to continue this monitoring with regular hearing tests throughout their employment. The Noise Regulations set out how often a hearing test should be carried out in a workplace hearing surveillance programme. It’s usually annually for the first two years of employment. Then it is every three years, although this may need to be more frequent if any problem with hearing is detected, or where the risk of hearing damage is high.
Early signs of hearing loss
These are some of the signs of hearing to look out for.
- Decreasing response to loud sounds
- Increased difficulty understanding conversations in noisy/busy environments
- Sitting closer to presenters and speakers at meetings or events
- Having a feeling of fullness or pressure within the ears when noise is present
- Increase in repeating what has been said in a conversation
These are just some signs to look out for. If you are worried about yourself or a colleague, speak to a manager, and/or your occupational health provider.
What Employees can do to help prevent hearing loss at work
Whilst employers should be doing all they can to reduce risks associated with hearing loss in the workplace, employees also have a part to play. It is important that employees take responsibility for their own health and safety, and take steps to ensure that they are protected from any potential hazards. This could include wearing appropriate hearing protection when working in noisy environments and taking regular breaks away from loud noises. Also, it’s important to look out for your work colleagues. Sometimes it can be hard to notice or admit to yourself when you are having problems with your hearing. So look out for signs in others and speak to them and your manager to help and support them. Remember that there are risks to noise in your home environment too. Be mindful of the environmental noise and wear hearing protection when undertaking noisy tasks at home. These could be hedge trimming, lawn mowing, or home DIY to name a few. Don’t forget noisy hobbies are also a risk to your hearing.
What can you do as a manager to help and support your team
There are a number of online support services available for those with impaired or damaged hearing, especially within the working environment. The key UK ones are the NHS Action on Hearing Loss and the RNID. As a manager, you can utilise these services to provide your team with advice, fun activities, and relevant information about hearing loss. In addition, work with your occupational health provider to discuss the management of noise risk in your business, and offer regular hearing tests to identify any potential issues early.
How Su Chantry Occupational Health can help and support you
We offer a range of workplace health services. In particular, for hearing, we offer ear examinations/hearing tests, as well as ear wax removal services, and general hearing loss advice. We can refer to further specialist services if this is identified as required clinically. Our range of services can take place at either your place of work or in my clinic rooms in Grove Business Park, Wantage. We can also advise on appropriate types of hearing protection, and provide relevant training to staff on hearing conservation. We are always happy to answer any questions you may have, so reach out on our contact form here, to start the discussion.
As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure the health and safety of your employees. One way of doing so is through regular hearing tests, which can help detect any hearing loss that may have gone unnoticed before now. These tests protect employees from permanent damage due to excessive noise exposure. They also empower workers, by giving them an extra layer of protection against occupational hazards like noise-induced injury or illness. Hearing tests are important for all employees be they desk or production-based, so noise levels can be monitored and reviewed to ensure a healthy working environment.