Are Your Employees At Risk of Hearing Loss – and What Can You Do to Help?

We explore the effects of hearing loss on the work environment. And what you can do to protect your workers and promote better occupational health.

Every day, billions of people head to work all around the world. Unfortunately, millions of these people work in unsafe environments that can cause permanent hearing loss or damage.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 16 percent of disabling hearing loss in adults is caused by excessive noise in the workplace. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the United States recommends that workers should not be in an environment where noise levels are at 85 decibels (dBA) or louder for eight continuous hours.

Some of the noisiest workplace environments include airports, construction sites, factories, mines, casinos and even astronauts working in space. Workers in these and other industries can experience a range of side effects from loud noises including headaches, tinnitus, high stress, insomnia, and even depression.

Every major workplace regulatory agency – including the WHO, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – says that workplace-related hearing loss is 100 percent preventable.

This guide will explore the effects of hearing loss on the work environment and what you, as a business, can do to protect your workers and promote better occupational health.

Harmful Effects of Workplace Hearing Loss

Even when provided with Hearing Protective Devices (HPDs), some employees may not wear them properly, or at all. Some workers consider loud noises simply part of their day-to-day life and not something that will permanently affect them.

This is why it is so important to educate workers on hearing safety and provide as many hearing safety considerations as possible. Without them, both workers and businesses will feel the detrimental effects of hearing loss in the workplace, including:

1. Negative Socioeconomic Effects

Hearing loss can have a dramatic effect on the socioeconomic status of an individual. One 2016 study found that hearing loss contributed to lower education levels, a higher chance of unemployment, and a greater likelihood of low income. The study concluded that “the societal impact of hearing loss is profound…”

In the United States, untreated hearing damage may cause a loss of up to $30,000 in income each year. This has cascading effects in the economy, including diminished tax dollars and increased unemployment spending.

Another study showed that workers with hearing loss who did not use a hearing aid earned about 25 percent less than those with typical hearing.

2. Increased Risk of Mental Health Problems

Multiple studies have shown that there is an increased risk of depression and other mental health problems when a person suffers permanent hearing damage or loss.

Some individuals may experience tinnitus depression. Tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing sound in your ears that is either constant, or comes and goes. Tinnitus is frequently associated with hearing loss. Many people with this condition report feeling depressed or anxious. Various studies have shown higher rates of mental health issues among those with tinnitus than those without.

man working on machine

3. Potential Workplace Safety Issues

If an employee is having a hard time hearing, they may miss valuable instructions, which could lead to potential safety risks. These workers may also have more difficulty hearing audible safety alerts from the machinery they are using.

Hearing loss at work can also affect social relationships. Workers who find it difficult to listen to and participate in conversations with coworkers during breaks may feel excluded or depressed. These negative emotions can then affect their work performance.

4. Increased Risk of Litigation

In many countries, there are regulations surrounding occupational safety. This includes protecting a worker’s hearing. If a company is found to be negligent in providing their workers with the proper safety precautions, they can potentially get sued.

5. Additional Workplace Expenses

When a worker experiences hearing loss, he or she is more likely to take sick days. This leads to decreased production at work and an economic burden on employers.

Hearing Loss Symptoms

Because hearing loss is usually gradual and painless, most workers do not realise it is happening for years. This makes detecting hearing loss, especially in its early stages, particularly difficult. Here are some of the most common symptoms of hearing loss:

  • Frequently asking people to repeat themselves.
  • Feeling exhausted after attending social events.
  • Ringing in the ears.
  • Difficulty hearing people on the phone.

If someone is experiencing these or other symptoms, they should have their hearing tested.

How to Improve Hearing Safety in the Workplace

In the 1940s, industries around the world started recognising a need for better workplace safety. This led to the development of the Hierarchy of Controls in the 1950s. Since then, this format has been used in countries and industries across the globe. In order of the most to least effective measures, it includes the following:

  • Elimination: When you identify a hazardous noise source, eliminate it.
  • Substitution: If the source cannot be eliminated, substitute it for something that makes less noise.
  • Engineering Controls: When the hazard cannot be eliminated or substituted, a business can use engineering controls, such as redesigning the work environment or constructing barriers to block the noise.
  • Administrative Controls: If engineering controls are insufficient or not possible, companies can use administrative controls, such as changing an employee’s schedule to avoid high noise levels.
  • PPE: The final and least effective option is to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers. For hearing-related hazards, this could include ear plugs or other HPDs.
Hierarchy of Controls
Hierarchy of Controls. Source: www.cdc.gov

Workplaces should consider this hierarchy when improving workplace safety conditions. Many of these steps can be used together to be more effective. For example, workers can use PPE along with engineering and administrative controls for superior hearing protection.

Another step workplaces can take is instituting occupational health screenings that include hearing tests. These comprehensive tests can provide a baseline for a worker’s hearing and make it more likely that you will detect hearing loss at an earlier stage.

Improve Your Workplace Safety with eMoyo

Now that you understand the importance of hearing safety in the workplace, you can start making changes and invest in medical devices that can help protect your employees – and your business. eMoyo can make this process easier with our innovative portable Kuduwave audiometer range. Our audiometer devices let you accurately test hearing without a booth and wherever you need to, including at work.

To learn more about our hearing technology and how we can help your business protect your workers, you can book a free product demonstration with us. Contact us today to get started.

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