Hearing health & safety for UK businesses

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Over 9 million people in the UK are hard of hearing.

A survey by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf from 2005 found that out of the 65 million population at the time, 9 million suffer from some degree of hearing loss. The underlying reasons for hearing loss differ, but two of the more common are damage to the auditory system caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise and age-related deterioration.

Based on the government Noise Regulations of 2005, businesses of all sizes have a duty to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work. These regulations encourage businesses to assess their environment and to take action to prevent hearing loss amongst staff. It is usually the responsibility of the health and safety officer, or the HR manager together with management to enforce these regulations.

Here is a selection of hearing health and safety tips to help reduce the likelihood of noise induced hearing loss.

1. Noise assessments should be carried out – working areas which have been flagged as being potentiality harmful should undergo noise assessments. Health and safety teams need to be aware of the government set levels.

2. Proactive steps should be taken to reduce all unnecessary noise – reducing the risk to employees is done by taking several approaches, rather than one approach. Changing to quieter processes or quieter equipment, go hand in hand with setting compulsory hearing protection policies when and where required.

3. Set strong polices and enforce them – hearing protection must be worn at all times at areas which have been targeted for noise control and removed only in safe areas as advised by the health and safety team.

4. Employees can be given a earplugs or earmuffs to reduce hearing trauma. Together with furnishing employees with hearing protection, it is important to train each employee on their correct use and to inspect each device regularity for any breakdowns.

5. Have an open door policy when noise is concerned – employees should be encouraged to report noisy environment which they feel may place their health at risk. Policies to do with quieter processes should be enforced and constantly addressed for emerging risks.

6. Offer hearing tests to employees – businesses are encouraged to provide access to health professionals as required by law and by their employees. The symptoms of hearing loss may include a difficulty in hearing speech within background noise, asking people to repeat themselves, or having to regularly turn up the volume on the television or radio, perhaps higher than others require it in the same room.

Hearing loss may lead to reduced self confidence, lifestyle changes and in business, reduced productivity. The key to reducing noise induced hearing loss amongst staff is taking action against noisy environments, setting polices and educating staff on the various risks of hearing loss.

Article by Joan McKechnie, BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology. Joan works for digital hearing aids company Hearing Direct. For more information on hearing loss, you can read her guide to hearing loss.

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  1. The underlying reasons for hearing loss differ, but two of the more common are damage to the auditory system caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise and age-related deterioration. Proactive steps should be taken to reduce all unnecessary noise – reducing the risk to employees is done by taking several approaches, rather than one approach. Changing to quieter processes or quieter equipment, go hand in hand with setting compulsory hearing protection policies when and where required. Hearing loss may lead to reduced self confidence, lifestyle changes and in business, reduced productivity. The key to reducing noise induced hearing loss amongst staff is taking action against noisy environments, setting polices and educating staff on the various risks of hearing loss.
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