Causes of Industrial Hearing Loss

nihl causes

Although many different people suffer from hearing loss as they get older, it is generally people who work in certain industries or trades who are at risk of suffering from noise induced hearing loss. This is because the type of job they do exposes them to excessive levels of noise at work. It is well known that certain occupations are more likely to create the risk of a worker becoming hard of hearing through noise induced hearing loss.

The following is not an exhaustive list, it does set out the most common workplaces where industrial deafness can be a problem:

  • Call Centres – many workers in call centres will experience symptoms of noise induced hearing loss, because of faulty headphones, headphones turned up too loud or in some cases, as a result of acoustic shock. This can be related to problems with the equipment or by malicious callers whistling down the telephone. The headset should be fitted with appropriate limiters to protect the worker, but these are not always properly installed or maintained.

telephone noise

  • Car manufacture – exposure to loud noise can take place at various stages within the car making process and often includes heavy, clanking metal on metal noise which can cause serious damage to hearing.
  • Construction Sites – these are another common cause of noise induced hearing loss and tinnitus. Construction workers are exposed to noise from heavy plant and equipment including drills and jack hammers. They may hear explosions or regular heavy hammering. These sounds all cause damage to the ears of proper hearing protection is not provided.
  • Engineering work – loud noise created as part of the engineering process can often lead to noise induced hearing loss if steps are not taken to dampen the sound created by the machinery. It varies from workplace to workplace, but noise from welding machines, electric drills and similar tools will cause damage to hearing if hearing in many cases.
  • Factories – some factories are noisier than others of course, but any workplace which has heavy plant and machinery in operation is at risk of exposing the workers to noise induced hearing loss. Workers sometimes report heavy metal on metal clanking sounds from presses or from cutting machines. Factories are often in enclosed, confined spaces. This makes it more difficult to avoid the loud noises that can cause tinnitus and noise induced hearing loss. It is important that noise free zones are clearly marked within the factory to allow workers some time away from the noise. It is also possible for the impact of the noise to be reduced by provision of adequate personal protective equipment.

loud factory noise

  • Furniture making – regular hammering sounds or noise from cutting machines within the furniture making process can lead to noise induced hearing loss
  • Foundries – often extremely loud workplaces within heavy industry. The noise is caused by the use of heavy caulking guns, needle guns or welding machines. These sounds a very damaging to a person’s hearing and will often lead to s noise induced hearing loss or tinnitus injury if steps are not taken by the employers to reduce the sound that workers are exposed to. Personal protective equipment in the form of heavy duty hearing protection is imperative for people working in foundries.
  • Heavy fabrication jobs – similar issues to people working in other areas of heavy industry. Regular exposure to the loud noises produced by the fabrication process is a common cause of industrial hearing loss and tinnitus.
  • Mills – people working in mills have been experiencing symptoms of noise induced hearing loss for many years. The sounds of the looms, constantly banging and whirring throughout a shift will eventually cause damage to a person’s hearing if the level of noise is not properly reduced. Some of the leading cases in the Courts have come from mill workers who have suffered from damage to hearing as a result of their work.

noise inside a cotton mill

  • Mines – miners work in small, confined spaces with constant hammering, modifying and scraping sounds. Add the noise caused by controlled explosions from time to time and it is easy to see why miners are at such a high risk of developing noise induced hearing loss.
  • Music venues – musicians, bar staff, waiting staff, bouncers and roadies are all at risk of hearing damage, because of the high levels of noise that they may be exposed to. In many cases, although the noise is high, it is for short periods of time so proving a legal breach can be difficult. However, sometimes the noise can be intense, causing acoustic shock type injuries which are difficult to treat.
  • Shipbuilding – needle guns, caulking guns, jack hammers, welding machines, hammers and chisels are all used in the shipbuilding process. These create significant levels of noise and as a result, noise induced hearing loss in shipbuilders is common. The employers could take steps like improving the machinery, making sure that the work takes place in large spaces and providing adequate hearing protection to reduce risk of damage to their employees.
  • Quarries – similar to miners, regular controlled explosions and the sounds of digging machinery can be loud enough to cause noise induced hearing loss for many quarry workers.

Employers of people in these workplaces must abide by the Control of Noise at Work Regulations to ensure that their staff are kept safe from the dangers of industrial hearing loss.

The Health and Safety Executive has recognised that these workplaces do create a risk of noise induced hearing loss, so employers are already on notice that they must act properly to protect their workers.