Understanding Hearing Loss in the Workplace

Many workplaces are typically noisy environments. Whether it’s a construction site or factory, carpenter’s studio or car garage, loud machinery and power tools are crucial for getting the job done. But for those who work with these tools as part of their everyday role, their hearing can be impacted.

According to numbers from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), approximately 17,000 workers had work-related hearing problems between 2017/18 and 2019/20. This figure is just an estimate at this stage because the HSE states that: ‘There is limited information available on work-related noise induced hearing loss.’

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HSE goes on to explains that: ‘The LFS provides the estimated number of workers who self-report work-related ‘hearing problems’, including both new and longstanding cases. The Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) figures include only annual new claims and these are based on a much stricter definition of ‘deafness’ in which claimants must have a substantial measured loss of hearing in both ears (greater than 50 dB).’

So, based on this information, the numbers could, in real terms, be higher, meaning that there are workers who aren’t accounted for who are suffering with hearing loss or other impairments to their hearing as a result of working in noisy conditions.

Where do we stand when it comes to work-related hearing loss? How can we address the issue? Read on to get an insight into the stats and steps to take to combat this issue.

Noise-induced hearing loss: the stats

While the HSE states that there’s limited information about hearing loss caused by noise in the workplace, there are some figures to be aware of. As well as 17,000 workers experiencing work-related hearing problems, there were 95 cases of occupational deafness in 2019, based on reporting by the IIDB.

Additionally, in the period between 2010 and 2019 there were 1,125 new cases of occupational deafness. Of that number, five were female. This means that women are less likely to have worked in roles that cause deafness and other hearing impairments.

How hearing loss in the workplace can be prevented

Hearing loss caused in the workplace is preventable, but it must be addressed before it becomes an issue. This is because once hearing has gone it won’t come back.

Employers must understand that prolonged exposure to high noise levels can cause permanent hearing damage. Crucially, workers might not know they have hearing damage until it’s too late, and they could be left with tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears, or deafness.

There are ways for businesses and workers to combat this.

There are Control of Noise at Work regulations for workers in the UK. These set legal limits on noise exposure in the workplace. According to these regulations, employers must prevent or reduce the risks of overexposure to noise at work. If you’re an employee, it’s worth being aware of this as you can check to see if your employer is assessing the risk levels and taking steps to reduce noise levels.

Employers should also make sure noise levels are manageable and reduce the risks. To do this, they should introduce protection for employees’ ears, such as investing in ear plugs. By having this PPE in place, workers are more likely to be able to work productively and without fear of damage to their hearing. This makes it a worthwhile investment in the long run.

Whether you’re an employee or employer, it’s worth knowing the risks and understanding how to reduce the risk of hearing loss in the workplace.

Interesting related article: “What are Occupational Hazards?