The risks of hearing loss

Millions of Britons are putting their hearing at risk every day, research has suggested. This can be through hobbies such as going to loud concerts or sporting activities – or not protecting themselves adequately at work.

Employee health and wellbeing – encouraging employees to sit up and listen to the risks of hearing loss

Millions of Britons are putting their hearing at risk every day, whether by going to loud concerts, through sporting activities or not protecting themselves at work, a study has suggested.

The survey of 2,000 adults by Oticon, creator of the hearing aid Opn, found 19% had hearing loss and 21% suffered from tinnitus. One in five admitted to not using hearing protection when working in loud environments.

Four in ten adults unknowingly endangered their hearing on a daily basis and one third did not take any precautions to protect it when exposed to loud volumes.

A fifth did not even consider the impact loud noises could be having on their hearing.

Isolation, stress and depression

Thomas Behrens, Head of Audiology at Oticon, said: “Hearing loss does not only affect the ability to hear sound, it also puts a strain on the brain as it tries to interpret meaning in words, organise sounds, orient sound direction and refocus, especially in noisy environments such as restaurants.

“This can leave people feeling very isolated and alone, and can potentially lead to serious health effects including stress and depression.”

What, then, should employers be thinking about here? Back in 2014, for example, a study by audio technology company LimitEar concluded that workers spent nearly two hours using headphones in the workplace, and that 7.6 million of them could potentially be putting themselves at risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

Oticon has recommended the following practical tips for employees:

* Wear earplugs – and remember they only work if properly fitted in the ear canal.

* Use ear defenders for kids as it can be hard to properly fit ear plugs.

* Keep your distance from the big loudspeakers.

* Use an app to measure the sound level at concerts or in other high noise level situations.

Risk-managing noise levels

It is also important as an employer to be proactively risk managing noise levels within your organisation. This needs to include, at the most basic, simply being aware of noise-related risks within your workplace environment.

But it is also about proactively carrying out noise risk assessments, having (and communicating) a hearing protection policy, ensuring noise-related health and safety protocols are followed and offering employees access to regular screening, testing and health surveillance, if required.

As Dr Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health advises, the fact our workforce is ageing means hearing loss support and risk management is likely to become more, not less, important in future.

“At one level, of course, is not up to employers to be ‘interfering’ in whatever noisy hobbies people pursue in their free time. But once hearing is lost, it is often lost for good and therefore being proactive in helping employees to recognise the dangers of hearing loss in their personal lives as well as at work can be valuable.

“This has to be accompanied by a common-sense risk management and health education and promotion in the workplace, especially in areas or roles within the business where noise-induced hearing loss could be a real risk,” she adds.