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Avoiding hearing problems and workplace deafness

How to recognise the risks of industrial deafness or hearing problems

Some basic guidelines on possible noise levels in the workplace:

  • If an you or an employee has to shout to a colleague who is at a distance of about 2 metres in order to be heard then the noise level is likely to be about 85 decibels.
  • Similarly, if you have to shout to make yourself heard to a colleague who is 1 metre away from you the background noise is likely to be 90 decibels.
  • Ordinary hand held power tools such as grinders, impact guns, and wrenches generally cause noise levels above 90 decibels.

Hearing loss caused by noise at work is usually measured by a hearing specialist at a hospital on an audiogram. The hospital specialist carries out a hearing test, and the result of the hearing test is recorded on an audiogram.

An experienced hospital specialist, such as an ENT surgeon will read the audiogram, and advise whether it indicates hearing loss caused by noise at work.

The hospital specialist when reviewing the audiogram is looking for high frequency sensorineural hearing loss of a sufficient degree to enable him to be able to advise that it is the result of damage caused by high noise levels at work.

Generally, if the noise at work has caused sensorineural hearing loss it is also likely to be the cause of any tinnitus.

It may be possible to claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit if the hearing loss was caused by noise at work.  This benefit is dealt with by Jobcentre Plus.  There are conditions that determine whether an applicant is eligible for the benefit, and the scheme requires the applicant to attend a hearing test.  Read our hearing loss case study

If your employer has failed to take steps to reduce excessive noise in your working environment or provide protective equipment such as ear defenders etc –  you may be entitled to make a claim.

More links:

Textile worker claims for deafness

Deafness researchBritish Deaf Association HSE on noise induced hearing loss NIHLear protection information (HSE pdf) – MOD deafness claims

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