What is industrial deafness?
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Industrial deafness, also known as ‘occupational deafness’ and ‘noise induced hearing loss’ refers to an individual losing their hearing as a result of being subjected to high levels of noise in the workplace.
Sometime industrial deafness is only temporary however, there are many cases where the hearing loss is permanent. If symptoms of industrial deafness are found early enough, the chance of it becoming a permanent issue are much reduced.
Different types of industrial deafness
In addition to temporary or permanent hearing loss, there are also two conditions which are classed as types of industrial deafness – acoustic trauma and tinnitus, both of which are explained below:
Temporary hearing loss
Temporary hearing loss can occur when an individual is subjected to constant loud noise, for example in a factory with loud machinery, over several concurrent hours. A sufferer will usually begin to have some amount of hearing loss after being subjected to the constant loud noise.
The best thing to do when in this situation is to take yourself out of the noisy environment. Doing this will dramatically lower the chance of your hearing loss becoming worse or last longer. In some cases, it can take up to 16 hours for a person’s hearing to return to normal, provided they are situated in a quite environment.
Permanent hearing loss
Permanent loss of hearing can occur if an individual is exposed to a high level of noise without adequate protection for a long period of time, usually years. It occurs because the hair cells within the ears deteriorate from being subjected to noise and they do not replenish.
Once permanent hearing loss occurs, if there is no improvement in symptoms over a long period of time, it is highly unlikely that any hearing will return.
Acoustic trauma, which is also known as ‘acoustic shock’, occurs when an individual is subjected to an extremely loud noise such as a gunshot or explosion. If there isn’t sufficient protection of the ears, the acoustic shock from the loud noise can cause irreparable damage such as a perforated eardrum.
Tinnitus is a common hearing problem that effects approximately 15% of people at some point during their life. In the workplace, it can be caused by long term exposure to loud noise.
Symptoms of tinnitus include a ringing, buzzing or whistling type noise in one or both of the ears, and sufferers often believe that the sounds they are hearing are coming from an external source.
What causes industrial deafness?
Industrial deafness can occur when a person is subjected to loud noise. This is usually over a long period of time where the person was not wearing sufficient ear protection. But in addition, hearing problems like acoustic shock can occur from being subjected to just one extremely loud noise.
There are certain occupations where workers are at a higher risk of developing industrial deafness. These include:
- Construction workers
- Factory workers
- Jobs in the music industry
There are also certain tools which pose a higher risk of causing industrial deafness. Such as:
- Bench grinders
- Break pad grinders
- Cold cutting circular saws
- Concrete vibrators
- Hammer mills
- Hydraulic power packs
- Multi-headed grinder
- Pedestal grinder
- Pneumatic transfer systems
- Sand burners
Symptoms of industrial deafness
Common symptoms of all four types of industrial deafness (temporary hearing loss, permanent hearing loss, acoustic shock and tinnitus) include:
- Lack of hearing in one or both ears
- Missing part or full sentences in conversations
- Struggling to hear speech when there is background noise
- Having to turn the television or radio up to a particularly high volume
- Hearing a constant ringing, buzzing, whistling, hissing or droning sound in one or both ears (this usually refers to tinnitus)
How can industrial deafness be treated?
If you have any of the symptoms above, and work in a particular loud environment or have been subjected to a particularly loud noise, you should see your GP who will assess you fully. If a doctor feels it is necessary, he or she will then refer you to a specialist for further, more thorough tests to determine the extent of your hearing problem.
Unfortunately, hearing loss is an extremely difficult condition to treat as the damage to the ears is usually irreversible and irreparable. In some cases, sound therapy and the use of hearing aids may be recommended to help poor hearing.
How to prevent industrial deafness
The ‘Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005’ is an act which is in place to protect workers from having to suffer high levels of noise in the working environment. Employers must follow the instructions to ensure that their employees are at the lowest risk of developing any form of hearing loss as a result of being subjected to loud noise.
As part of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, noise in the workplace is set into ‘action levels’. In each of the levels, if noise reaches a certain decibel level, prevention action must be taken. The lowest level is noise of 80dB.
If noise in the workplace is at this level, employers must provide information and training regarding noise level, whilst also providing sufficient hearing protection to all employers. The upper level of the scale is for an average noise of 85dB. When this is the level of noise in the workplace, employers must issue sufficient hearing protection and ensure that all employees wear it.
In addition, The Control of Noise at work Regulations 2005 states that the noise level in a work place should never exceed and average of 87dB.
There are things that employers and employees can do to help minimise the risk of developing industrial deafness, which are:
- Making sure the legal limits on noise exposure are never exceeded
- Assessing the risks to all employees of exposure to noise
- Ensuring that noise level risk assessments are carried out thoroughly, correctly and regularly
- Providing employees with sufficient information and training regarding noise levels in the workplace
- Providing employees with the correct hearing protection equipment and ensuring that they are worn correctly and at all times
- Taking sufficient action to minimise the level of noise in the workplace where possible (for example, by using silencers on equipment)
- Making sure that hearing protection is used correctly and at the right times (for example, ear defenders, ear plugs, semi-aural insets)
- Ensuring that they are correctly trained to use equipment in the workplace
- Making sure that all hearing protection is correctly maintained
- Not staying in areas with high levels of noise for periods of time which are longer than necessary
Make a claim
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