Deafness at work

Work Related Deafness

What is work related deafness?

This is hearing loss as a result of over-exposure to noise in the workplace. It is also referred to as noise induced hearing loss. Forty per cent of those who work all their lives at high noise levels find it difficult to hear a normal conversation. In particular they experience difficulty in conversation in a group setting. The affected person may have difficulty hearing the main speaker because of the level of background noise.

Can noise in my place of work affect me long-term?

Exposure to high levels of noise, either continuously or as a sudden bang from operational tools, can have a number of physiological and psychological effects on workers, including stress, tinnitus (a buzzing sensation in the ears), and if exposed over long periods of time, permanent hearing loss. The important factors when assessing the long-term effect of noise is the level of noise and the duration of exposure to that noise.

Noise may also make the workplace inherently more dangerous because it can interfere with communication between workers in that environment.

What responsibility does my employer have for reducing noise?

Employers have a duty to reduce the risks of noise exposure in the workplace. New regulations introduced in Ireland in July 2006 governing the control of noise at work, contain minimum levels of protection for employees.

The regulations set what are termed as ‘exposure action values’ – the level of noise which if exceeded requires specific action to be taken to reduce risk and ‘exposure limit values’ – which are the levels of daily exposure which must not be exceeded for any employee.

The exposure action values are:

If noise exposure reaches the lower values (80-85 dB), employers have a duty to reduce noise levels by general action. They must also inform potentially affected workers of: the level of noise exposure; what measures are being introduced to reduce noise levels, the benefits of wearing hearing protection and where and how to obtain it; and the hearing checks that are available.

If exposure reaches the upper value (above 85 dB) employers must inform workers of the potential risk of damage to hearing. They must also identify the reason for the excess noise and put in place a programme to reduce it, and provide the services of a registered medical practitioner to carry out hearing checks and audiometric testing.

What should my employer do to protect my hearing?

Under the regulations, employers are required to reduce the level of noise in the workplace to the lowest level reasonably practicable. This may be done by:

Reducing the noise at the source, for example by enclosing the noise source, relocation of noisy machinery or machine modifications

Reducing the number of people working in a noisy area or the length of time they spend in the area.

If exposure to noise is likely to exceed 80 dB and it is not technically possible to reduce noise, as a last resort, the employer must provide suitable and adequate ear protection, i.e., earmuffs or earplugs. The type of protection provided should follow consultation with the workers concerned on the suitability and adequacy of the models of protection.

Remember ear protection is only suitable if worn correctly and so training may be necessary. You should also try to observe signs drawing attention to noise levels, so that you can take the necessary precautions.

Reviewed: September 29, 2006

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