Noise Induced Hearing Loss Posts

Hearing loss affects so much more than your ears

By Lorraine Gailey

Chief Executive, Hearing Link

 

HRH Princess Royal attending an event hosted by Hearing Link at the Tower of London. Picture by Clint Randall www.pixelprphotography.co.uk
Picture by Clint Randall www.pixelprphotography.co.uk
Everyone’s hearing loss journey is different: How it started; when it started; when they realised there might be an issue; how they reacted to it.

 

For some, they might ignore it for as long as possible or pretend it’s not happening. Others want to fix it and find practical solutions as soon as they can. Many involuntarily, almost imperceptibly, start to retreat from social activities.

 

Yet there’s something that everyone has in common: Hearing loss doesn’t just affect your ears, but impacts much deeper.

 

Profound consequences

 

At Hearing Link, a leading UK charity for people with any level of hearing loss, we understand that the consequences can be dramatic, even devastating not just for the person directly affected, but their family, friends and colleagues too. Hearing loss can influence every part life: relationships, status at work, confidence and self-esteem.

 

Sue from Southampton explains: “I felt very isolated. It’s funny – you could be surrounded by people and feel so lonely.

 

Sue and her husband contacted Hearing Link’s Helpdesk after learning about the charity through their hearing therapist. Offering information, guidance and support, the Hearing Link team helped Sue and Tony take steps to live more confidently with her hearing loss.

 

Sue explains: “Hearing Link it was the start of a road to recovery. It showed me a light at the end of a dark tunnel.”

 

Transforming lives

 

With a reduced ability to communicate, the result of hearing loss is often frustration, anxiety, depression, isolation and a gradual withdrawal that shatters families and disrupts careers.

 

Shona, a manager at a national utility company, says: “At work I worked extra hard to make up for my hearing loss, really struggling to hear in a crowd. Gradually, I felt myself getting more tired and less prepared to take responsibility for all the changes I needed to make to communicate.

“I battled to cover it up because I didn’t want to be different from the next person or admit I needed help. I just muddled through. However, gradually it started to catch up with me and I found myself in a very dark place.”

 

Through the support received via Hearing Link, Shona’s new-found confidence inspired her to change her life. Now, as well as volunteering for the charity to help others benefit from their support, she is busier than ever. She volunteers as a trustee of lipreading charity, takes part in university research projects, fundraising activities, travelling and attending conferences. Overall, she is much more out-going and upfront about her hearing loss and needs – and so much happier for it.

 

Looking beyond technology

 

While excellent technology and advances in surgery play a vital role in managing hearing loss today; getting the best out of them often requires additional support for the individual to develop effective communications strategies, improve knowledge and maintain their confidence.

 

The best possible start is to understand they are not alone. By sharing experiences with others in similar situations, they can start to adapt and develop skills to help reconnect and embrace life again.

 

Marc, 38, was struggling with hearing loss when he turned to Hearing Link’s Community Support Volunteers – a friendly network who provide practical and personal advice to people living with hearing loss and their family.

 

He connected with two volunteers who faced similar issues. Marc explained: “Just the act of reaching out, taking that one step, was all it took to turn my slowly shrinking world into one of joy and laughter again. Hearing Link helped me to realise I am not alone in the silence. It gave me the confidence and my drive, and kept me in a world of work when I was at the point of giving up completely.”

 

Transforming lives

 

Wherever you are on your hearing loss journey, Hearing Link can help.

 

Whether you are directly or indirectly affected through a family member, friend or colleague, Hearing Link offers information, guidance and signposting to help you take your next step.

 

We provide personalised and practical support from people who experience hearing loss themselves, direct you to appropriate local organisations and services, or access to specialist training and rehabilitation programmes.

 

“Hearing Link gave me back my ME!” Wynne

 

If you are looking for answers, seeking support, or simply need to talk to someone who understands, please get in touch with the Hearing Link Helpdesk. Call 0300 111 1113, Email helpdesk@hearinglink.org, Text 07526 123 255, or visit www.hearinglink.org.

 

About Hearing Link

 

Hearing Link is a leading UK charity for people with any level of hearing loss, their family and friends.

 

Through shared experiences, practical support and guidance from people who experience hearing loss themselves, Hearing Link enables those living with hearing loss to reconnect and embrace life.

 

Its vision is a world where everyone can enjoy life and participate fully and confidently, whatever their level of hearing.

Moving Forward

This article was kindly written by Jennifer Gibson, an award winning writer, photographer and designer. She is also a Hear Strong Champion for the Hear Strong Foundation and she is dedicated fo changing stigma around hearing loss. We hope that this article will help with that goal. To find out more, visit Jennifer's Blog, her Facebook page or her Twitter feed. 

Jennifer Gibson profileHaving to deal with the impact of a hearing loss can be quite a shock. Coming to terms with it is not easy, but it’s an important step in moving forward. If it’s not recognised in time, it can have a devastating impact on everyone’s lives.You need to embrace this new change in your life which means utilizing as many tools as possible.

Get good quality hearing aids

The biggest and most obvious step is having your hearing tested by an audiologist and getting good quality hearing aids that are programmed to suit your type of hearing loss. Every company is different and there are a variety of brands out there to choose from such as Unitron, Phonak, Widex or Oticon, to name a few. Depending on the type of hearing loss, you can opt to wear an ITE, tiny hearing aids that fit in the ear which are nearly invisible which work for a mild hearing loss. If the hearing loss is closer to being more moderate or severe, a BTE may be a more suitable fit since they are more powerful, these are typically larger and sit behind the ear. My personal favourite is the Oticon Chili Super Power BTE’s, they offer superior quality speech and music programs and the best ones I’ve used so far, I highly recommend giving them a try. And If you have a cheeky sense of humour, you could always say that it’s one of those newfangled Bluetooth earphones. That’s the beauty of wearable tech, you’ll blend right in with today’s cool crowd.

types of hearing aidBy the way, there’s no shame in wearing hearing aids. It’s unfortunate that many people are resistant to wearing them due to the stigma that it’s a sign of growing old. I’ve been wearing them since I was a kid, that’s over forty years of experience. It’s a part of my life and I’ve had to accept that. Once I embraced it, people around me responded to that attitude in a positive way. I’ve had many strangers come up to me and exclaim how much they love the colours of my earmolds and hearing aids. Since they are visible, they are more careful to get my attention and make sure that I understand them. They go out of their way to find alternative solutions so that we can communicate with each other. Being honest about my hearing loss has made a world of a difference and it has made my life a lot easier.

Wearing hearing aids is only the first step. Education and awareness is the other aspect of it. One of the biggest misconceptions is that people often expect to have their hearing restored when they wear hearing aids. Sadly, that’s not the case. It’s not that same as wearing glasses where your eyesight is temporarily back to normal when you wear them. Damage to the ears is typically permanent. The ability to hear sounds is diminished considerably or in severe cases, gone. That’s a bitter pill to swallow. 

However, hearing aids can help amplify speech which is important. They also reduce the stress and exhaustion of straining to hear. Yes, hearing loss is tiring. You may not realize it but you are compensating for the lack of ability to hear normally by reading lips or watching body language. It’s a huge drain on the body especially in a noisy environments such as being outside at a busy street or in a crowded restaurant.

Cone of Silence

Unfortunately, we don’t have those nifty inventions such as the Cone of Silence as seen in the movie Get Smart to help us. The next best thing is to pick smaller venues that are quieter and well lit. At noisy locations, try to find a seat in a corner or with your back to the wall to reduce the background sounds. It’s best to avoid areas near the kitchen, a noisy air conditioning unit or if there is music blaring nearby such as speakers directly overhead. Also, try to avoid talking to someone sitting in front of a bright window where their face is cast in a dark shadow. If you are unable to change spots, let them know that you are having trouble following the conversation since you can’t see their face. Most people are not aware of how much we rely on facial cues and it helps to educate them about it. 

cone of silenceFor business meetings, there are many options to consider such as the size of the room, number of people and seating arrangements. The closer you are to the speaker, the more successful you will be at hearing them. Bear in mind that hearing aids have a limited range, they work best within one or two metres. Beyond that, the distance makes the sounds, particularly speech, inaudible. Hearing aids are usually not strong for meetings or large group conversations, there’s a lot of information that is being exchanged at a rapid pace. It’s like being at a tennis match where you’re watching the ball go back and forth, except in this case you’re going from face to face, trying to catch snatches of what’s being said. 

Smaller groups make it much easier to follow the flow of the conversation. Round tables are superb where you can see everyone’s faces and understand what is being said. However, if it’s a large group then you’ll likely need to utilize other resources such as having a professional notetaker with you. Another option is to use digital technology such as a conference microphone that can be placed at the table or FM systems that pick up the voice of the speaker and reduces background sounds. An audiologist can help find the best one that will fit the type of environment you need the most assistance in. By the way, you can also use the FM system to plug into your mobile device which streams the sounds, including music, right to your hearing aids. 

For training sessions, conferences or corporate meetings, you may want to consider using CART which is Realtime Captioning. I’ve attended many large meetings and conferences that utilized this technology and it’s an absolute god-send. It’s a live translation of what’s being spoken and delivered to a screen or laptop monitor. The downside is that this type of service is costly and somewhat limited in terms of availability depending on the location.

Music, TV and Plays

If you’re a music lover or enjoy plays, there are a variety of choices being offered today thanks to the advancement of technology. However, it requires being diligent in doing research about the venue you want to attend. Find out what services they provide in regards to assistive listening devices. Some offer neck loops that work for hearing aids with a T-switch (telecoil) while others provide headsets that amplify sounds. Be aware that headsets can cause feedback and not necessarily provide enough sound. Removing hearing aids to use the headset is not ideal since you would lose the ability to hear the information, it essentially defeats the purpose. If you’re not a fan of headsets or neck loops or it’s simply not available, another option is to read the transcripts of the play ahead of time. 

Movie theatres are becoming more accessible thanks to the new CaptiView Closed Caption Viewing System. It’s a small LED display on a bendable snake-like metal tube that sits in the cup holder. While it may seem weird lugging around an alien looking device to your seat, it’s worth it to be able to follow virtually every word that is spoken during the show. It’s a phenomenal invention that I adore and can’t live without. For years, I couldn’t go to the movies because I missed so much of the dialogue, now I can enjoy it like everyone else and that means the world to me. Bear in mind that most movie theatres typically have a limited supply of these devices on hand and a small fraction of their shows are captioned. Always check the listings before you go, visit their website to get the latest updates.

While on the topic of captioning, most televisions provide this feature, go through the settings and check to see if it’s turned on. The majority of shows today are closed captioned. Although this is not necessarily true for shows that are streamed online, while Netflix and Hulu have done a stupendous job in providing captioned content, there is still a bit of a gap in this area.

Closed captioning is a great feature to use at home, especially if everyone else in the family is complaining that the television is too loud. I always use it and many of my relatives are keen to turn it on for me when I visit which is a very kind gesture that I deeply appreciate. A nifty bonus is that it’s a great tool for kids learning how to read, particularly at a fast pace. The trick to reading captions on TV is to look in the middle where your eyes will catch everything as opposed to just reading the words. There’s a golden rule regarding using closed captioning at home: if the person watching television has a hearing loss and relies on the captions to follow the content, turning it off is a big no-no. They need to use it the same way other people wear glasses or use a wheelchair, it’s a valuable tool to help them be more inclusive. 

There are lot of services out there that can make a world of difference for you. While it may seem like a daunting prospect to ask someone to help you, it’s worth it. We are living in the golden age of digital technology, it’s an enormous boost for people like us and we should be taking advantage of it as much as possible. As actor Nathan Fillion likes to say, “Life is like broccoli. You’ll never know if you like it if you don’t try it.”

To read more by Jennifer Gibson, visit her Amazon UK or Amazon USA stores.

8 Ways to have a better conversation with someone with hearing loss

This article has been kindly written by Shari Eberts, a hearing health advocate, writer and avid Bikram yogi. She serves on the Board of Trustees of both Hearing Health Foundation and Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing loss. You can find her on her Living with Hearing Loss Blog, Facebook and Twitter. Shari has written a post with some practical guidance on ways to have better conversations with someone with hearing loss. There are some great tips for everyone here.

Shari EbertsThose of us with hearing loss know how hard it can be to connect with others, even with those closest to us – our friends and family. Conversations can be difficult, with frequent repeats, pauses, and misunderstandings. It can be frustrating and sad, not only for us, but for those that love us as well. They don’t like to see us struggle or be unhappy, but they can also get annoyed that we don’t understand what they are saying. This post is for them. Share it with your friends and family and enjoy better conversations! 

Hearing aids don't work like glasses

The first step in having better conversations with our friends and family is for them to understand that hearing aids don’t work like glasses. Glasses take fuzzy images and sharpen them so they are crisp and clear, allowing most people with glasses to see normally, or pretty darn close. This is not the case for hearing aids. 

Hearing aids amplify sounds, but this just makes them louder, not necessarily crisper or clearer. Most people with hearing loss can hear that someone is talking to them; they just can't understand what words are being said. The clarity is not there. 

This leaves the person with hearing loss playing a bit of a guessing game. Maybe he hears only the starting letter of one word and the final sound of another word. It takes work to make sense of these incomplete sounds and turn them into words or a phrase that makes sense in the context of the conversation. This requires a lot of extra thinking and can often be exhausting. 

Hearing aids also have a tough time differentiating among sounds so that the background noise (i.e., the hum of the refrigerator or the air conditioner) is amplified in addition to the more important sounds of the conversation. This can actually make it harder to hear in certain situations!

8 ways to have a better conversation with someone with hearing loss

But all is not lost! Follow these simple steps and enjoy better conversations with your friends and family with hearing loss. 

1. Provide Context

Context makes it easier to fill in the blank spaces of the words. If all you hear is "__oot," knowing if the conversation is about owls (hoot) or a robbery (loot) or musical instruments (flute) is a big help!

2. Get Their Attention First

Hearing takes concentration for those with hearing loss, so make sure they are ready and are paying attention. Talking to them before they are ready will have them playing catch-up and make it harder for them to understand the context of the conversation.

3. Don’t Cover Your Lips

Lip-reading is helpful in filling in the blanks of what is not heard. I always tell people, “I can't hear you if I can't see you.” Don't cover your mouth with your hands and make sure that you are well lit. 

4. Speak Clearly and at a Steady Rate

Remember that volume is only part of the problem. Clarity of the sounds is really key. Speak your words clearly, and try to maintain a regular pace of speech. Rapid speech is very difficult to follow since all that brain processing time is condensed, while slower than typical speech will look weird on the lips and make lip-reading less useful.

5. Be Aware of The Surroundings

Background noise is a problem, so try to avoid it if you can. Turn off the A/C or at least turn the fan down to low. Don't play music in the background. A quiet and well-lit spot always works best.

6. Take Turns Talking

If there are multiple people in the conversation, it is important that only one person speaks at a time and that each speaker makes the effort to face the person who has trouble hearing. 

7. Repeat or Rephrase

Be prepared to hear "What?" during the conversation. Try not to get frustrated, but simply repeat what you have said. If that doesn’t work, try rephrasing your thoughts using different words that might be easier for her to hear. Or spell a word that is giving her a particularly hard time. Often knowing the first few letters can help connect the dots. 

8. Keep Your Sense of Humour

Hey, it can be frustrating, I know. But remember the goal is to connect with one another, so why not laugh at the misunderstandings. It is better than the alternative.

Living with High Frequency Hearing Loss

This article has been kindly written by Chelle Wyatt, who writes the excellent My Hearing Loss blog. She was asked to write a post about the impact of hearing loss, not specifically confined to people who suffer as a result of workplace noise, but who may have experienced hearing loss in a wide number of ways. We are grateful to Chelle for her piece and encourage you to check out some of her other posts, in particular an article about hearing aids, which inspired the request for this post.

my hearing lossThe most common kind of hearing loss is high frequency hearing loss. Causes range from noise induced, to presbycusis (age related hearing loss), hereditary conditions and more. Even though high frequency hearing loss is common, it's also the most misunderstood. People with this kind of hearing loss can hear well enough to know someone is talking but will have trouble understanding the words, even with hearing aids in. These people will hear the garbage truck but can't hear birds. They hear men's voices better than woman's and will have the most problem with childrens voices. A little more volume might help but a lot of volume distorts sound. High frequency hearing loss is a selective hearing loss, letting them hear some sounds but not others. It's important to understand they DO NOT chose selective hearing, it's how the hearing loss works.

High frequency hearing loss is selective to many sounds of speech. Many consonants fall into the high frequency and are left unheard. The first letters to go are F, S and TH followed by K. Words with these letters are then difficult to decipher in conversations. “Word- wi– –ese letter- are –en di–icult to dis–er in conver-ation-.” Sometimes people can fill in the spaces at the sound of speech and sometimes they can't gather enough information fast enough to make sense of the sounds they can hear.

Thats with a mild, untreated hearing loss. With a moderate high frequency hearing loss P, H, G, CH and SH are also lost. This makes speech much harder to understand and filling in the spaces becomes more difficult. “–is make- s-ee– mu– -arder to under-tand and -illin- in –e –ace- become- more di–ult". With a severe / profound high frequency hearing loss, some vowels become harder to understand. Lesser I, A and O sounds start fading as does the consonant R. "W– – -eve-e/–o-ound -i– –equency -e–ng l– –m- vowel- become —d-r -o under-t-nd." Can you see why people with high frequency hearing loss have such a hard time with speech?

hearing loss information

Will hearing aids fix hearing loss?

Hearing aids help but won't fix this kind of hearing loss totally. For one thing, hearing aids operate optimally within a 4-6 foot range in a quiet setting. After that, their effectiveness drops. That's why talking to someone with hearing aids from another room will rarely work. That's why they can't hear lectures unless sitting directly in front of the person.

Hearing aids are made to amplify all sounds. Today's digital hearing aids can boost the higher frequencies and dampen lower tones but it has it's limits and cannot replace what's lost. Another issue is background noise which is the biggest complaint of hearing aid users. Hearing aids can't process sounds like normal hearing. The hearing aid industry has worked some of this out with directional microphones but background noise can still can be overwhelming.

Audiologists often don't clue people into the real deal when fitting hearing aids which leads to disappointment – and disappointment may lead to hearing aids being put away in drawers forever. That's too bad because hearing aids will help. Without hearing aids someone may have a 30% word discrimination, with hearing aids they get a 60% word discrimination which is a big difference when it comes to filling in all the missing pieces.

Others may continue to wear their hearing aids doing their best to cope with the holes left by hearing aids. They might even think it's their fault. Questions like, "are your ears on?!" come up and might prompt many to fake it. It doesn't make sense to have all this great technology (unless an audiologist warned about it) and still not be able to understand so a bluffing strategy might be adopted. It's the first coping strategy many people take on but it's not the best because people may agree to things they shouldn't have as they do the "deaf nod". Hearing the words "never mind" are the most hurtful words to those with hearing loss. It tells them they aren't worth the effort when they are actually trying their very best to understand but the selective hearing of high frequency hearing loss isn't allowing everything to reach their ears. Seeing the impatience in people as they repeat, again, amplifies the discomfort felt by the person trying so hard to hear putting more pressure on them to understand the next repeat. When understanding does not occur the person may revert to bluffing.

can't hear bluffing

The key is not slinking away or bluffing but educating one another. This is how I hear. This is why I miss certain things. This is why I know you are talking and why I can't understand. This is what I need to understand… What do you need to understand speech better? Experiment and research to find out exactly what helps you.

Good coping strategies for hearing loss

Be upfront about hearing loss. It helps when the other person knows you can't hear, most people will be willing to work with you. It helps even more when you tell them what you need. Saying "I can't hear" will probably only make them talk louder. Volume isn't needed, clarity is. Have them face you and tell them slow down only a little to enunciate more clearly. Once you educate them, they will know how to work with you and every other hard of hearing person who comes along.

Tell people you need to see them to hear them. Most hard of hearing people use lipreading to some degree even if they don't consciously accept it yet. Telling others you lipread will also get people to face you making the sound come directly to you and it might stop people talking from other room. Don't feel guilty telling others you lipread in the beginning. The more you consciously use it, the better you will get it. This, like sign language, is an ongoing effort so don't expect instant results.

Ask people to turn down the background noise such as the radio or TV. With less competition there will be less repeats. Don't be afraid to ask restaurants and businesses either. Chances are it's interfering with other people's hearing as well.

People get stuck on certain words and there's several ways around this. If after the second repeat the key word is still missing, ask them to rephrase. Find another word like it or expand the sentence to offer more clues. Another option is to learn sign language which is not a fast, easy fix. This takes time and only works if the other person is willing to learn sign language as well. An easier way might be to learn the manual alphabet because it's a sound that missing in the word. If the person can fingerspell the first couple of letters most likely you will get the rest of the word.

There is a difference between being passive, aggressive and assertive. Being passive is bluffing or faking it. This may seem like the easiest way to get out of situations but it could also lead you to agree to something your normally wouldn't. Being aggressive with your requests to other people might put them on the defensive side and make them unwilling help to you. The middle ground is being assertive. Tell people how you communicate and why.

Take charge of your hearing loss

Take charge of your hearing loss, don't let it take charge of you. Join a support group, follow hearing loss on the internet and learn about technology available like assistive listening devices that take away the distance problem for hearing aid users. Join a lipreading or sign language class (this is even better if you have someone to take it with you). Remain as independent as you can. We all need a little help but don't rely exclusively on someone in your life to take care of situations for you.

There are a few bad apples. No matter how much you try to educate them they will not cooperate. Weed these people out of your life if possible, which can be heartbreaking when it's a good friend or family member. Seek support, counseling, a hearing loss class, show them what it's like with online hearing loss simulators.

Take your significant other to your hearing test. Let them go in the booth with you so they can experience what you hear and don't hear first hand. Keep them there for the word discrimination test too. Then have the audiologist do the word discrimination test again with hearing aids in so they can see even in the best circumstances you won't be able to hear everything. They ask the audiologist any questions they may have and they just might have comments valuable to your programming needs.

Learn about the different assistive listening devices (ALDs) out there. There are FM systems to help in lecture settings and hearing loops which take away the distance problem with hearing aids. Personal amplified devices can help in vehicles. Some cinemas have headphones and captioning devices available such as CaptiViews and Sony Caption Glasses. There are alerting devices, specialised telephones and more. Ask your audiologist or join a support group to find out more.

If you're reading this with healthy hearing protect your hearing. Noise induced hearing loss happens and anything above 80 decibels has the potential to cause harm. Your hearing is precious. If you have a hearing loss yourself don't isolate yourself. There's always a way around obstacles and one of the best things you can do is find others like yourself to share knowledge, build confidence and empower one another.

Some useful links to get more information about living with high frequency hearing loss

Please visit our links and resources page for more information about organisations who can help you.

How to avoid Noise Induced Hearing Loss at work

High levels of noise can cause damage to hearing, because the noise affects the workings of the inner ear and caused high frequency loss. This is called noise induced hearing loss.

Noise induced hearing loss makes conversations much more difficult, friends and family will complain that you have the TV too loud, using the phone is more difficult and sleep can be affected if you have tinnitus as well.

Employers have clear legal duties that they must comply with in order to reduce the noise at work and reduce the risk of a worker becoming hard of hearing.

There are many ways that employers can reduce noise. Among their duties, employers should:

  • Make relevant engineering or technical changes to reduce the noise at source
  • Use screens, barriers or absorbent materials
  • Use quieter processes or equipment
  • Set the workplace up so that the workstations are quieter
  • Reduce the amount of time spent in noise areas

how to avoid noise induced hearing loss

Duties of employees to help avoid industrial hearing loss

The primary responsibility to keep the workplace safe is borne by the employer. However, we all have to take care for our own safety too and there are a number of ways that employees can help to protect their hearing.

Report any problems with noise control

If there are any issues with noise control measures not working or if the hearing protections is damaged, not maintained of functioning incorrectly, you should let your employer and your health and safety representative know straight away.

Look after your hearing protection

Your employer must provide you with hearing protection when the noise risk assessments identify noise louder than 80dB. They must train employees how to look after the equipment and where to get it from. When ear plugs or ear muffs become damaged they are less effective, so it is important that each person does what they can to look after the hearing protection and reduce the risk of noise induced hearing loss.

Wear your hearing protection

As mentioned above, hearing protection must be provided when the risk of noise greater than 80dB exists. In these cases, the employer must provide appropriate hearing protection to reduce the risk of becoming hard of hearing as a result.

use your hearing protection

As well as providing the equipment, they must provide training on how to use it properly. The employee must make sure that they follow these instructions and always wear their hearing equipment when they are in a noisy part of the workplace (it should be clearly signed to let you know). Taking the hearing protection off, even for a very short while, can significantly damage your hearing in loud areas.

It is important to note that the use of hearing protection is simply the last line in defence against noise damage. Employers should be looking at other steps to reduce noise levels before using hearing protection.

However, the following are the most common types of hearing protection.

Earplugs – These should go right into the ear canal, not just across it. You should ask for help if you are having trouble fitting them comfortably. Earplugs should be fitted after you have cleaned your hands and you should never share them with anyone else. Some earplugs are one use only and others can be worn more often. Check the packaging so that you know which you are using and seek advice if you are unsure

Earmuffs – They should totally cover your ears. They need to fit tightly and there should be no gaps around the edges, because otherwise noise can filter in. Hats jewellery, hats and glasses should be pulled out of the way so that they do not interfere with the seal. You should keep the inside of your earmuffs clean and make sure that the seal is clean too. It should not allow any noise in if possible.

Semi inserts / canal caps – These are held across the ear by a band, usually made from a plastic material. You can follow the same advice as for earplugs, but always remember to make sure that there is a good seal every time you put them on and that the band keeps its tension. This will reduce over time, so you need to make sure that you ask for a replacement in good time.

Attend for your hearing checks

The employers should arrange for regular monitoring and health surveillance for workers who are at risk of noise induced hearing loss, because of potential exposure to loud noise in the workplace. These tests are painless and quick and every employee should make sure that they attend when invited to do so. The tests are useful, because they can detect reductions in hearing before they becoming disabling and allow action to be taken in good time.

hearing surveillance

Co-operate

Employees should help their employers create a noise free environment by following the advice they are given – for example, use hearing protection when provided, avoid hearing protection zones without hearing protection and always report any issues with equipment or problems which make the workplace noisier.

 

Reducing Hearing Damage through Noise Control

The Noise at Work Regulations 2005 place obligations on employers to find and implement ways of reducing hearing damage through effective noise control. There are various ways in which noise induced hearing loss can be reduced without reducing the profitability or effectiveness of a business. Most of these methods can be put in place for a reasonable cost and will become apparent when a proper noise risk assessment is carried out.

Fan Installations

Axial flow or centrifugal fans will produce the lowest levels of noise when they are running at maximum efficiency. This means that when a fan is installed and is not running efficiently, it will produce higher than necessary levels of noise, so increasing the risk of noise induced hearing loss

To ensure maximum efficiency and reduction of noise, there should be at least 2-3 duct diameters of straight duct between any feature that may disturb the flow and the fan itself.

Adequate and regular maintenance of fans in this way should produce noise reductions of between 3db and 12db.

Fan Speed

Fan Speed

Fan noise is generally to the 5th power of the fan speed, so high levels of noise reduction can be achieved by a small drop in fan speed. The speed of an industrial fan can be reduced by changing control systems, pulley sizes and dampers.

This will have a significant impact in reducing hearing damage and the following levels of noise reduction can be achieved:
 

Fan Speed Reduction Noise Reduction
10% 2dB
20% 5dB
30% 8dB
40% 11dB
50% 15dB

Electric Motors

Electric motors are used widely in workplaces for fans, pumps, machine tools and more. Many general duty motors are available which are up to 10dB quieter than older models and by replacing these motors, this reduction in noise can be easily achieved.

In order to reduce the economic impact of replacing all motors in one go, companies could adopt the approach of introducing new motors as part of their regular maintenance. This process will reduce incidences of hearing damage in the work force.

Chain and Timing Belt Drives

Noise reductions of between 6dB and 20dB can be achieved by replacing noisy chain drives with quieter timing belts. There are a number of quieter timing belts which use different tooth profiles to reduce the noise produced by their operation. In particular, a chevron tooth pattern is able to produce very quiet timing belts. Noise induced hearing loss will be reduced when these steps are taken.

chain belt drive

Damping

Damping can be used to reduce hearing damage for workers who stand near chutes, hoppers, machine guards, panels, conveyor belts, loud tanks and many other noisy items of machinery.

There are 2 methods of applying damping to machines in the workplace.

Unconstrained layer damping uses a layer of bitumastic high damping material and sticks it to the surface.

Constrained layer damping takes place when a laminate is created and applied to the surface.

Constrained layer damping is generally felt to be more effective as it is tougher and more rugged.

Sound deadened steel guards, panels or other components can be used for dampening or self-adhesive steel sheet can be used too. This can simply be stuck onto existing components to reduce the noise. When 80% of the flat surface area is covered, noise reduction of 5dB to 25dB can be produced. This will have a massive impact on the noise in a workplace and will significantly reduce the risk of noise induced hearing loss.

The damping process does have some limitations and will not produce these results in every case – when the sheet thickness is greater than 3mm, it becomes much harder to produce substantial noise reduction.

Ductwork

Extraction, ventilation and cooling devices or openings in walls can create high levels of noise in a workplace.

A reduction of 10dB to 20dB can be achieved from this airborne noise y lining the last bend in the duct with an acoustic absorbent such as foam, rockwool or fiberglass. As an alternative, fit a simple absorbent lined right angled bend to fit on the opening to reduce the sound produced. To achieve the best results, either side of the bend should be lined along a length that is at least twice the duct diameter.

In some cases, duct vibration will cause noise, but this can be treated with damping.

ductwork

Vibration Isolation Pads

Placing motors, pumps, gearboxes and similar machines onto rubber bonded cork pads will have the effect of reducing the transmission of vibration and noise that is emitted. In cases where the machine is bolted to the floor or a steel support, this method is especially effective in reducing hearing damage.

It is important to note that in cases where a bolt is present, additional pads must be placed underneath the bolt. Otherwise, the process is not as effective as it should be.

Lots of anti-vibration mounts are available, often rubber, neoprene or spring types. The level of noise reduction is difficult to estimate as much depends on the size of the plant and the frequency of vibration to be isolated.

Existing Machine Guards

Many machines already have guards on them which can be used to reduce the level of noise created.

Firstly, it is necessary to minimise the gaps in the guards. By reducing half the gap / open area in a set of guards, the noise can be reduced by 3dB. When the gaps are reduced by 90% through flexible seats or additional close fitting panels, a 90dB noise reduction can be obtained.

Secondly, by lining the inside of the guards with an acoustic absorbent material like foam, rockwool or fibreglass, the noise that is trapped by the guards is reduced.  This is because less noise can escape from the gaps that have been reduced.

Guard vibration can also be reduced with damping as described above.

Before carrying out the changes to the machine guards, a mock up can be made using cardboard and wide tape to see what the likely effect of reducing the gaps and lining the guards will make to the noise emitted.

Modification of existing machine guards is a very effective way of reducing the risk of noise induced hearing loss within a workplace.

machinery guards

Pneumatic Exhausts

Pneumatic exhaust noise can be reduced by 10dB to 30dB by fitting effective silencers. There are some practical points to note though.

Where back pressure exists, a large coupler and silencer should be used.

Then clogging is an issue, a straight through silencer than cannot clog and has no back pressure should be used.

In cases of multiple exhausts, manifold them into a single, large diameter pipe fitted with the rear silencer from virtually any make of car. This is readily available from any tyre and exhaust fitter.

The level of noise reduction available from this technique will have a great impact on reducing hearing damage for workers near the exhaust.

Pneumatic nozzles

Existing copper pipe nozzles for cooling, drying and blowing machines can be replaced with quiet, higher efficiency entraining units, often reducing noise output by 10dB. They also have the benefit of using less compressed air.

Reducing Hearing Damage through Noise Control

As can be seen from the examples above, there are many simple methods that can be taken by employers to reduce the levels of noise that their workers are exposed to.

These ought to be identified by a robust noise risk assessment system to reduce the risk of noise induced hearing loss. Most of the methods described will bring a workplace to within the safe limits required by the Noise at Work Regulations 2005. This is especially true when used in conjunction with a system for the use of appropriate personal protective equipment.

These measures will have the benefit of reducing the risk of hearing damage and increase efficiency and productivity.

(This article was produced with reference to the helpful “top 10 Noise Control Techniques” produced by the Health and Safety Executive)

Causes of Industrial Hearing Loss

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.