Tinnitus, though not a life threatening condition, is a condition that can severely inhibit someone’s quality life. And that’s why it’s vital that employers whose employees are at risk take all the measures possible to reduce the risks.
As an employer, you have a whole host of responsibilities for your employees. Amongst them are health and safety responsibilities.
There is a roster of potential hazards and risks to health in workplaces of all kinds. Of course, some workplaces (construction sites, boats or industrial premises) come with more potential risks and hazards than, say, offices. But regardless of which type of premises you operate out of, you have to steps to minimise the risk of potential injury or illness to those working for you on the job.
One condition that can be associated with certain working environments is tinnitus. So let’s look at what you can and should do in order to reduce the risk of this hearing related condition for your staff members.
What is Tinnitus?
Before we dive in, let’s look at what the condition is.
Tinnitus is a condition which causes phantom sounds that only the person experiencing it can hear. The sounds can be anything from ringing to buzzing to whistling, and it can be constant or intermittent. It can be heard in one ear or both, and the volume can vary. In some cases, tinnitus can be so loud that it interferes with sleep, work, and social activities.
Tinnitus is a common condition. Over 12% of people have been diagnosed with it according to recent tinnitus statistics. There are a number of causes, including exposure to loud sounds and noises, b earwax build-up, jaw problems, medications, and medical conditions such as high blood pressure and Meniere’s disease.
There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are treatments that can help to manage the symptoms. These treatments may include:
- Sound therapy: This involves listening to specific sounds that can mask the tinnitus.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This can help to manage the stress and anxiety that can be associated with tinnitus.
- Relaxation techniques: These techniques can help to reduce the perception of the tinnitus.
Which types of workers are most at risk?
Exposure to loud sounds is one particularly common cause of tinnitus. So those who work in loud environments are most at risk of getting the condition as a result of their work.
Hearing loss and degradation of hearing is a common problem for workers in noisy industries, such as construction, manufacturing, and engineering. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that 17,000 UK employees suffer from deafness, tinnitus, or other ear conditions directly caused by a loud working environment.
In fact, since 2019 alone, there has been an average of 11,000 new cases of work related hearing conditions recorded every single year. And it may be reasonable to assume some are not recorded too.
Some tasks that workers may carry out that put them at high risk include:
- Operating power tools or heavy machinery that is noisy
- Using explosives or firearms as part of their job
- Performing tasks that involve impact such as hammering or drop forging
- Working in live music venues or bars where the volume is often high
- Working in stadiums with loud crowd noise whether it’s for a music or a sporting event. This could affect stewards, bar staff and sports players/coaches too
- Airside staff and those working close to runways at airports – this isn’t just the people standing on the runway all the time, but those driving vehicles out on the runway at intervals too
- Working in nurseries or schools can even present a risk to hearing
But even in an office environment where you may assume the risk would be negligible, if people regularly raise their voices and shout, this may exceed the danger level for noise frequently enough that noise levels may need addressing.
So the main take away message here is that we must not assume that just because your business is not in heavy industry, that your employees are not at any risk.
How to protect your employees from tinnitus and other hearing related conditions
The first and most important duty you have is to understand which employees are at risk. As a part of your standard risk assessments, you should be recording and looking at noise levels to understand which workers are regularly exposed to sounds and noises at volumes loud enough to cause damage. Sometimes, this may require specialists in noise level assessments to visit your place of work.
This is important and again we should reiterate that we cannot simply overlook employees who are not directly involved in heavy tasks without assessing properly to understand the risk posed to them.
When you identify workers who are at risk of hearing related conditions like tinnitus or even deafness, you then absolutely have to take steps to protect them.
Steps you can take include (but are by no means limited to) the following:
- Ensure that all equipment and machinery is used in line with safety guidance from the manufacturer. Your team should be given proper training on all equipment
- Provide ear protection such as ear defenders that are specifically made to protect from noise at the volumes your staff are exposed to, or ear plugs. Ensure that whatever protection you supply them with, the quality and standard is appropriate to the noise levels you’re protecting them from
- Educate, inform and provide guidance to your employees and staff members on the risks to their hearing. Explain clearly why ear defenders are being provided and insist upon such protection being worn
- Ensure that the noise levels in your workplace do not exceed legal limits. These limits may vary depending on where in the world you are, but we would suggest you familiarise yourself with them and ensure your workplace adheres to them
- When buying new machinery or equipment, consider sound levels as a part of the purchasing decision
- Encourage your staff to report any issues at all with their hearing and ensure they’re familiar with the processes to do so
Ultimately, tinnitus, although no life threatening, is an unpleasant condition that can have severe negative impacts on the quality of life we lead.
So as employers, of course we should do whatever we can to minimise the risk at work to our staff.