Noise-Induced Hearing Loss at Work

Regularly working in places or with tools where the level or sound or noise is loud can lead to a person experiencing deafness.  Initially, this can be temporary but continued or prolonged exposure can result in permanent hearing loss.  Examples of jobs where high levels of noise can lead to hearing loss are maintenance workers, grounds personnel/gardeners, orchestra musicians and theatre sound technicians.

There is a specific set of regulations which govern noisy activities at work: The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.  It places duties on employers to risk assess and undertake monitoring for all activities undertaken by employees where it is perceived that high levels of noise are produced and put controls in place to eliminate or reduce potential exposure to workers.  It puts duties on affected employees to comply with all controls put in place by management. 

The science behind the generation and level of noise and where such levels can lead to hearing loss is very complex.  However, put simply, under the Regulations, where there is prolonged exposure to noise levels above 85dBA, the employer must provide training and hearing protection in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE) and set up signed hearing protection zones where that PPE must be worn when noisy work is undertaken.  There should also be a system of regular audiometric health surveillance in the form of regular hearing tests for potentially affected employees; this is so any potential hearing loss or development of tinnitus can be picked up early, investigated and action taken, if indicated.

In line with the Control of Noise at Work Regulations, OH runs a health surveillance programme for employees with potential regular contact with noise levels above 85dBA.  The need for health surveillance is determined by management through risk assessment.  Information is passed to OH by Hazard Identification Forms. 

If you are identified to OH as potentially being in contact with noise levels higher than 85dBA, you will be contacted and invited in for a baseline line hearing test, also known as an audiogram.  Following this you be called back for regular tests at set down intervals.  These are more frequent when you first join the University but settle into a pattern of a test every 2 years.  You will be kept on the hearing protection health surveillance programme as long as your work involves you being in contact with high levels of sound.  If the OH practitioner can see from your test results that your hearing is deteriorating, this will be discussed with you.  If the test shows that the deterioration is more than to be anticipated for your age then you may be referred to the University’s OH consultant physician or you may be referred to your GP with the request that you be referred on to an ENT consultant.       

If you are concerned about any new symptoms you are developing, you do not need to wait until you are called in for your review.  You should discuss this with your manager and they should undertake a Management Referral to OH for advice.  Alternatively, you can self-refer to OH to discuss these symptoms; you should be aware that if the symptoms require further investigation your management will need to be aware of this. 

Further Information

Control of Noise at Work Regulations (HSE)
Noise; Don’t Lose Your Hearing (HSE)
Myth Buster; Noise in Music and Entertainment Sectors (HSE)
Occupational Noise (IOSH)
Noise at Work; a Guide for Health & Safety Representatives (TUC Document)