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World Hearing Day

Raising awareness of hearing loss and promoting hearing care.


Woman with hearing aid having a meeting with friends


About world hearing day


World Hearing Day is an annual global campaign, held on 3rd March, aiming to raise awareness of hearing loss and promote ear and hearing care. It emphasises the importance of early detection, prevention, and timely intervention for hearing health.


Hearing loss is a major public health issue that affects over 12 million people in the UK – that’s more than 1 in 5 of us. The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) estimates that by 2035 there’ll be around 14.2 million adults with hearing loss greater than 25 dB HL across the UK. Exposure to loud noise is one of the biggest causes of permanent hearing loss and tinnitus so it's important to know how to protect your hearing.



Noise-induced hearing loss


Every day, we experience different sounds in our environment, such as the sounds from television, radio, household appliances, or traffic. Normally, these sounds are at safe levels that don’t damage our hearing. However, sounds can be harmful when they are too loud, even for a brief time.


Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the second most common form of hearing loss. It occurs after repeated or long exposure to excessive levels of noise – for example, in noisy workplaces, while listening to loud music, using power tools, or shooting for sports. Repeated exposure to loud noise may cause damage to the cochlea and the hearing nerve which can lead to permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. Sometimes, the effects of noise induced hearing loss are not evident until years after initial exposure.


Noise-induced hearing loss can also be caused by extremely loud bursts of sound, such as gunshots or explosions, which can rupture the eardrum or damage the bones in the middle ear. This kind of NIHL can be immediate and permanent. Loud noise exposure can also cause tinnitus — the sensation of hearing a sound when there is no external source for that sound.


When sounds are too loud?


It may be difficult to tell how loud sounds are, but if you can’t talk to someone who’s about 2 metres away without shouting because of background noise, it’s likely that noise levels are too high. Noise is measured using the decibel (dB) scale, which reflects the sensitivity of human ears to different levels and frequencies of sound. Here are some examples:


  • 40dB: a quiet library

  • 60dB: ordinary spoken conversation

  • 85dB: a food blender

  • 88dB: heavy traffic

  • 91dB: a pneumatic drill

  • 97dB: an industrial fire alarm

  • 100dB: a nightclub

  • 110dB: a live gig or concert


140dB is the level at which noise causes pain for most people, although some people may find lower levels painful too. Sounds under 85dB are safe to listen to – you don’t need to use any hearing protection. 85dB is the threshold level at which your hearing can become damaged over time. If noise is so loud that it hurts your ears, you should immediately leave the venue or stop the activity that’s causing the noise – and use hearing protection in future. Remember, the louder the noise is and the longer you are exposed to it, the higher the risk to your hearing.


You can download a decibel reader app, such as Sound Meter or Decibel: dB sound level meter onto your smartphone to check the levels of noise around you. However, these apps should only be used as a guide, as they aren’t designed for professional use.


Man listening to the music through his headphones


Preventing noise-induced hearing loss


Hearing damage due to excessive noise cannot be reversed and it can have a serious impact on people’s overall quality of life. But NIHL is the only type of hearing loss that is preventable. If you understand the hazards of noise and how to practise good hearing health, you can protect your hearing for life.


Listening to music safely through headphones


  • Invest in some noise-cancelling headphones – they can block out the noise around you, meaning that you won’t have to turn up the volume to a dangerous level to hear your music properly over background noise

  • Turn the volume down a bit – it’ll make a big difference to how long you can listen safely for

  • Use a volume limiter on your device which limits audio output to a specified, safe listening level. This means you won’t be able to turn the music up without realising that you are going over the safe volume level

  • Take regular breaks of at least five minutes every hour to give your ears a rest


Listening to music at concerts, clubs and festivals


  • In a music venue, stay away from the speakers – the closer you are, the greater the risk of hearing damage

  • Wear hearing protection such as good quality earplugs to reduce the intensity of the noise. There are specially-moulded earplugs available to buy which don’t muffle sound but make it quieter and much safer

  • Take regular breaks from the loudest areas to give your ears a rest. In many nightclubs there are chill-out zones that are perfect for this.


Woman having fun during the concert


Looking out for the warning signs of hearing loss


You may have a hearing loss if you:

  • have difficulty following conversations in noisy places

  • tend to raise the volume of the television or radio

  • often ask people to repeat themselves

  • struggle to understand people on the phone

  • are told by others that you speak loudly

  • have problem in hearing various sounds, such as alarm or doorbell


Getting a hearing test


If you think your hearing is getting worse, see your GP who can refer you to an NHS audiologist (hearing specialist) for a hearing test. An audiologist will carry out test to find out what type and level of hearing loss you have. Before the test, they’ll ask you about your hearing and check your ears. They’ll then test one ear at a time. During the standard hearing test, called audiometry, you’ll listen to noises through a set of headphones. You’ll hear sounds of different tones and volumes and will be asked to press a button each time you hear a sound. The noises will gradually become quieter to find the softest sounds that you can hear. The test lasts about 20 minutes and is not uncomfortable.


Finding support


The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) offers advice on managing hearing loss, provides hearing aid support service, and runs local tinnitus support groups. Also, BID Services offer a range of specialist support to help people who are deaf or have hearing loss, to live as independently as possible. This includes interpreting and communication support services, different events and groups, as well as assessments, advice, and training on Assistive Technology and Equipment. Moreover, Hearing Link Services offer free LinkUps - support groups that are designed to explore the challenges of living with hearing loss and share solutions. Hearing Link Services also offers a helpdesk and they can provide a dog partnership for deaf people.



HEARING LOSS AND EMPLOYMENT



Man working in a factory

1 in 8 people of working age have some form of hearing loss. They are also more likely to be unemployed, face daily challenges at work due to a lack of support, and be at risk of early retirement.


Noise at work and Health Surveillance


Many people are exposed to noise levels at work that may be harmful, leading to permanent hearing damage. Hazardous noise in a workplace can be created for example by mechanical impacts (such as hammering or drop forging), high-velocity air or fluid flow, and the vibrating surfaces of a machine or of the product being manufactured. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 require employers to eliminate or reduce risks to health and safety from noise at work.

Depending on the level of risk, employers should:

• take action to reduce the noise exposure; and also

• provide employees with personal hearing protection

Other duties under the Regulations include the need to:

• make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded

• maintain and ensure the use of equipment provided to control noise risks

• provide employees with information, instruction and training; and

• carry out health surveillance (monitor workers’ hearing ability)


You can find more information on noise at work in HSE's guide: Noise at work. A brief guide to controlling the risks.


We can help you to keep your business compliant with Noise at Work Regulations through our Health Surveillance Service by providing hearing checks (audiometry) for employees who are exposed to high levels of noise at work. We will work closely with you to develop and implement cost effective programmes of health surveillance and make sure that employees are screened appropriately in line with risk assessments. Get in touch with us to discuss your requirements.


Supporting and retaining existing staff


With the right adjustments and employer support, hearing loss does not have to present a barrier in the workplace. By providing appropriate support, businesses can retain their valuable and skilled employees and avoid the costs of recruiting and training new members of staff. Many of the adjustments involve very little or no cost, for example:

  • Making changes to the employee’s work station, e.g. installing dividing screens to reduce noise or moving a work station so that a person can see the rest of the room, instead of sitting with their back to the door.

  • Reducing the impact of sources of noise in the work environment, such as background music.

  • Installing equipment for employees with hearing loss, such as amplified telephones

  • Modifying a job to take the needs of a person with hearing loss into account

  • Adjusting the layout of a meeting room and using good lighting to help the person with hearing loss see everybody clearly which will help with lipreading

  • Installing a loop system which can greatly assist hearing aid users

  • Providing voice recognition speech-to-text software

It is important to understand that hearing loss covers a broad range of people whose needs

can vary widely, as this may depend on the type or level of hearing loss. Therefore, employers should refer employee with hearing loss to Occupational Health to ensure they are supported in the best way possible. Through our Management Referral Service, the Occupational Health Advisors can carry out an assessment, advise on reasonable adjustments and provide guidance on how to support the employee on an ongoing basis.


Occupational Health Assessment with an employee

Controlling the noise exposure, issuing hearing protection, and providing staff with regular hearing checks is crucial to create a safe work environment. Moreover, it is important to embrace awareness, challenge stereotypes, encourage a culture of openness, take proactive measures, and promote accessibility at work. Recognising, supporting, and accommodating employees with hearing loss can help employers to create truly inclusive workplaces where individuals with hearing loss can reach their full potential, furthering their careers and contributing to overall workplace success.


 

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