Industrial Hearing Loss

By Kate Bass BSc

Industrial hearing loss (also known as occupational deafness or noise-induced hearing loss) is hearing impairment due to prolonged exposure to excessive noise at work. Although its prevalence is falling after the introduction of acts to control noise levels in the workplace, it still affects 14,000 people in the UK and 10,000,000 people in the US.

What is industrial hearing loss?

In certain professions, workers are routinely subjected to loud noise as an inevitable consequence of their role e.g., construction, engineering, factory production, mining. Regular exposure to consistently high noise levels without adequate ear protection damages the structures of the ear over time, thereby reducing the ability to hear properly.

There are four recognised types of hearing loss: tinnitus (ringing in the ears), temporary loss of hearing (hearing is impaired but returns after ≤2 days), permanent loss of hearing (the ear is irreversibly damaged and hearing impairment persists), acoustic trauma (ear damage caused by a sudden loud noise, eg, feedback through headset, or a series of loud noises, e.g., gun fire).

Symptoms

There is a gradual reduction in the ability to hear, often mistaken as part of the aging process. The main symptoms include:

  • Temporary or permanent lack of hearing in one or both ears
  • Difficulty hearing entire conversations
  • Struggling to hear speech when there is background noise
  • Having to turn up the TV or radio to high levels in order to hear it properly
  • Constant ringing, buzzing, hissing, roaring or ticking noises that impair concentration and the ability to follow conversations (tinnitus).

Causes

People exposed to excessive and prolonged noise in the workplace are susceptible to  industrial hearing loss.

Ordinary hand-held power tools such as grinders, drills and nail guns generally cause noise levels above those which can damage hearing. There are also less obvious causes of hearing damage. For example, acoustic trauma is an increasing problem among call centre operators as customers shouting down the phone or feedback in the headsets can lead to sudden high-level noise that can damage the ear.

Treatment

Hearing loss is extremely difficult to treat. The earlier the signs of hearing loss are detected, the better the chance of preventing further hearing damage.

There is no known cure for tinnitus. Sufferers must rely on long-term treatments such as the use of ‘de-tinnitising’ amplifiers to override the sounds of tinnitus or sound therapy classes to help retrain how the ear processes sounds.

Prevention

Ear protection should be worn if sounds of 80 dB or more are frequently experienced or sounds reaching a peak of 135 dB are likely.

Policies and guidelines are in place to help companies protect the hearing of their employees. These include provision of information to employees about the dangers of working in an environment where noise levels are high, provision of appropriate ear protection and enforcement of correct usage of ear protection. No employee should be subjected to average noise levels in excess of 87 dB (taking hearing protection into account).

Headsets for telephone operators in call centres have now been developed with an automatic inbuilt control that prevents dangerous levels of sound being transmitted to the ear of the wearer.

Case Study - Factory worker

Charles had worked for 10 years as a labourer in a factory that made and repaired boat motors. He was subjected daily to the loud noise of hydraulic impacts from various machines. Charles had become accustomed to the high noise levels and so did not find it necessary to wear ear muffs or ear plugs on a day-to-day basis.

Charles started having to ask people to repeat themselves more often and could not hear certain consonants. He sought medical help and was diagnosed with tinnitus and permanent hearing loss in both ears.

Charles started wearing serious hearing protection and looked into filing a claim against his employer for not ensuring he was informed about and protected against excessive noise in the work place.

Case Study - Smelter

Frank worked for a smelting company for 35 years. He was surrounded by extreme noise all day every day at work. He explains "The noise at work was excessive; you couldn't hear yourself think. I got used to it, although I never realised the lasting and damaging effect that it would have on my hearing".

Frank started to struggle hearing normal conversations, especially if there was background noise, and developed ringing in both ears. He was diagnosed with severe noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus in both ears.

He secured compensation from his employer for not protecting him from the high-level noise in his working environment.

Sources


About Hampson Hughes

Hampson Hughes Solicitors are specialists in no win no fee personal injury compensation. Their Industrial Disease Team have successfully settled a high volume of noise induced hearing loss cases for their clients, resulting in thousands of pounds of compensation being awarded for partial and full deafness as a result of working environments. For free, confidential and expert advice call 0800 888 6888 or email [email protected]

For further information on Hampson Hughes Solicitors and their personal injury services, please visit: www.hampsonhughes.com


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Last updated: Jun 14, 2017 at 10:52 AM

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