How Can You Protect Yourself from Hearing Loss in Risky Jobs?
Around 12 million people in the UK suffer from hearing loss, an umbrella term for the many ways in which hearing can be affected – whether by neurological disorder, the side effect of a disease or via occupational injury. Many jobs can be dangerous with regard to the safety of your hearing – but which jobs, and how can you protect your ears?
Which Jobs Are More Conducive to Hearing Damage?
It goes without saying that occupations involving close proximity to loud noises and machinery are more likely to be responsible for hearing impairment down the line – but this kind of work isn’t limited purely to industrial positions. A multitude of industries can be responsible for hearing loss in employees across the board, and some are subtler than others.
Factory and construction workers carry out their duties in the presence of excessively loud tools and machinery, with decibel levels in factories often reaching in excess of 100dB. The loud noises and even vibrations caused by power tools like pneumatic jackhammers and impact drivers can wreak havoc with the ears as well. A surprising entrant for occupational hearing loss is the dentist, who also spends a majority of their working day around high-frequency tools for drilling and chipping.
But less hands-on roles can also cause irreversible damage: musicians, sound engineers and events staff all run the risk of permanent hearing loss as a result of consistently attending loud live music events, where volumes can easily reach 120dB. But volume alone is not responsible for hearing loss; reverberant rooms like concert halls can also cause significant damage, without amplification.
How Can You Protect Yourself from Hearing Loss at Work?
Your first port of call when encountering dangerous levels of noise at work should be to speak to your company’s HR department, and occupational health officer. They have a legal obligation not only to hear you out, but to implement safe working policies surrounding the hazard.
Short, sharp, loud sounds can be responsible for short-term hearing damage and the triggering of tinnitus, but long-term damage can be caused by consistent exposure to sounds with an excess amount of a certain frequency – for example, the dentist’s drill causing high-frequency hearing loss in dentists. As such, it is not always enough to simply plug your ears for a single noise, whether the cracking of concrete or the feedback-testing of a room. The safest way to operate in these conditions is to make use of hearing protection, whether full-blown earmuffs or re-usable silicone earplugs.
You should also aim to take a break from the noise every 15 minutes; the noise is not just a physical hazard but a mental one too, with prolonged exposure to overwhelming sounds linked heavily to stress and anxiety. If you have suffered an unexpected loud noise which resulted in the onset of tinnitus, give your ears 18 hours to recuperate.
Deafness as an Occupational Disease
It may be that these suggestions come too late, and that you have already suffered from hearing damage as a result of your occupation. Deafness, if caused in your line of work, is considered an occupational disability, for which you could receive compensation and assistance. Also, at work you would be afforded the right to work adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995, as well as potential funding for specialist equipment under the government’s Access to Work Scheme.