Industrial deafness can also be known as 'occupational deafness' or 'noise-induced hearing loss', and refers to the loss of hearing as a result of being subjected to high levels of noise in a working environment. Industrial deafness can be temporary or permanent and there will be less chance of the hearing loss becoming permanent if symptoms are found early enough.
Over one million employees are currently at risk of developing forms of hearing loss in the workplace. Industrial deafness is grouped into four main types:
Temporary loss of hearing This can occur when an individual is subjected to constant loud noise. It will not usually worsen, but the best thing to do is to remove yourself from the environment to prevent this from happening.
Permanent loss of hearing Being exposed to high levels of noise without sufficient protection over a long period of time can lead to permanent loss of hearing. When the hair cells within the ear deteriorate from being subjected to noise and do not replenish, then permanent hearing-loss will ensue. If permanent hearing-loss occurs and there has been no improvement over a period of time, it is unlikely that hearing will return.
Acoustic trauma, also known as 'acoustic shock'. An individual may experience this as a result of an extremely loud noise, for example, a gunshot or an explosion. If the ears are unprotected, the acoustic trauma/shock can cause irreparable damage like a perforated eardrum.
Tinnitus This type of industrial hearing loss is caused by long-standing exposure to loud noise. Symptoms usually include a buzzing, ringing or ticking sound in the ear. Tinnitus can be temporary or a permanent condition.
There are occupations that are at higher risk of developing industrial deafness. Some examples of these are:
Tools that can cause industrial deafness:
Common symptoms include:
Industrial deafness can be a difficult condition to treat. A doctor will assess you before deciding whether to refer you to a specialist or not. If this is the case, a specialist will carry out further tests in order to determine the extent of the hearing problem. Sound therapy and the use of hearing aids are some of the treatments to aid poor hearing.
If you think you may be suffering from any form of industrial deafness then we recommend you consult your GP as soon as possible. If they believe there may be a problem with your hearing then it is likely you will be referred to a specialist for tests and the treatment which can include sound therapy or a hearing aid.
All forms of hearing loss are notoriously difficult to treat, and it is currently believed that hearing damage as a result of either a sudden or prolonged exposure to extreme noise levels is irreversible. It is therefore extremely important to identify hearing loss symptoms quickly before the condition can deteriorate further.
If it is determined that the workplace environment is the cause of the hearing loss then measures can be taken in order to reduce any further noise exposure and prevent any other employees suffering the same problem. Similarly, there is currently no known cure for tinnitus, but there are certain methods that can be applied to help sufferers cope.
These include the use of de-tinnitising amplifiers which work by creating external sounds at a specific frequency to try and trick the ear into processing the more relaxing sound produced by the amp rather than the high-pitched and distracting ringing that is associated with tinnitus. Sound therapy sessions can also help tinnitus sufferers to retrain how their ears process sounds over time.
The 'Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005' is an act in place to protect workers from having to suffer high levels of noise in the workplace. Employers must follow instructions in the policy to ensure employees are at the least risk of developing any loss of hearing from exposure to loud noise.
As part of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, noise in the workplace is set into 'action levels'. In each level, if the noise reaches a certain decibel level, preventative action must take place. The lower level of this is an 80dB noise level. At this level, an employer must provide information and training regarding noise level, and also provide hearing protection to all employees. The upper level of the scale is for an average noise of 85dB. If this is the average level in a workplace, then hearing protection must be issued and an employer is required to make sure you wear it.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 states that the average noise level must never exceed 87dB. There are certain things that both employers and employees can do, which helps to minimise the risks of developing industrial deafness. These are listed below:
If you are suffering or have suffered any type of industrial hearing loss because of high levels of noise in your workplace, and you believe that the correct prevention steps were not taken by your employer, then you may be entitled to file an industrial deafness compensation claim. To begin this process, you will need to contact a solicitor and then fill in an 'industrial deafness claim form'. After this has taken place, your solicitor will then proceed to pursue your claim.