Many people believe that hearing loss is just an issue for the aging but this isn’t the case. Although pensioners do often notice that their hearing is diminishing, their age isn’t necessarily the cause. There are several reasons that people notice signs of deafness but the most common cause is noise. A large proportion of our elderly generation are suffering from hearing loss due to their previous noisy jobs. Previous employers would now be liable for hearing loss claims for compensation as this shouldn’t have happened.
Unlike an accident at work that could result in a broken arm, the results of a noisy environment won’t show symptoms until many years latter. This is the major reason why noise induced hearing loss is often mistaken for a sign of aging. Although extreme noises such as an explosion can have the instant outcome of deafness, more common noises in working environments will do their damage over years of regular exposure.
How loud does a noise have to be to cause hearing loss?
A sound of 85 decibels or over has the capability to damage hearing and cause deafness. This may sound a lot but it’s not when you realise that everyday items omit this volume such as vacuum cleaners and hairdryers. This said you are very unlikely to develop hearing loss hovering your living room. A noise of 85dB has the potential to cause deafness after 8 hours of exposure. The quieter the noise the longer the exposure has to be.
The scary fact is that with every 5dB increase in noise level, the time needed to cause damage is halved. This means that a builder using a drill of 110dB could cause himself hearing loss in as little as 15 minutes. Even a gardener mowing can develop signs of deafness in 4 hours. When working unprotected, people in certain professions will be exposed to noises of this level for hours a day, for many years.
Each exposure may only cause a small amount of loss, that will be unnoticeable but over years of exposure this will build up, which is why it sometimes isn’t detected until later life.
How can I protect myself from noise?
There are two main forms of protection; personal and addressing the source of the noise.
Personal protection itself comes in two main forms. Which used is usually determined by the level and length of exposure. Ear muffs/defenders provide a greater level of protection but are large, cumbersome and uncomfortable. Due to this they are utilised for short usage of louder noises such as using a chainsaw. Ear plugs are small, light and more comfortable to wear but don’t offer as much protection. They would be used in environments such as factories where the noise isn’t extremely loud but continuous.
Personal protection should only be used as a short term method as the main aim should be to reduce or eliminate the noise at its origin. This can be achieved in many different ways such as new machinery, sound proofing, lubrication, reduction of metal on metal contact and the remote control of machinery. Eliminating people coming into contact with dangerous noise levels in the first place is a much easier and effective method of protection rather than trying to put a barrier between them.
As the length of exposure has an influence, regular breaks from noisy environments are very important. People can work in certain surroundings as long as they don’t exceed the recommended time periods for particular noise levels. This gives the ear chance to rest and recover before any damage is done. You have to be very careful not to get close to the periods and levels as everyone will have a slightly different tolerance so it’s better to be extra cautious.
Do I work in a noise job and am I at risk?
If you think you do then you probably are. Jobs such as construction, demolition, agriculture, music industry, pub/bar work, factories, road repair, the military and printing are all at risk. It may be hard to determine if the noise in your job is dangerous or not. The rule of thumb is that if you have to raise your voice in conversation over a noise, it is at a level that could lead to industrial deafness and you should be protected from it.
Your employer by law has to protect you from these noises or they would be liable for hearing loss compensation. Although this would compensate you in financial terms, you would rather stop the hearing loss from happening in the first place. If you feel you are at risk, raise the matter with your employer. If they fail to do anything about it then you should seek legal advice. Protecting your hearing is as important as any other aspect of your health and could have a major impact on your way of life.