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Urgent call for employers to address noise induced hearing loss

27 May 2014 by Alexandra Jones

Employers are liable as workers spend nearly two hours using headphones in the workplace, putting an estimated 7.6 million people in the UK at risk of noise induced hearing loss.

A study by audio technology company LimitEar found that workers listen to an average of 110 minutes of audio while in the workplace, and a further hour and a half (92 minutes) outside of work hours – a total of 3.5 hours of reproduced sound each day.

The need for employers to protect staff and themselves from the emerging risk of occupational noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), is also being echoed by HSE, the UK’s national independent watchdog for health and safety.

Despite regulations being in place to protect UK employees, 79% are unaware that their employer is legally required to protect them from NIHL. The study also revealed that almost half (48%) of the respondents are concerned about losing their hearing, showing a growing need for employers to protect their staff effectively.

European regulations stipulate that workers should not be exposed to average noise levels of 85dB (busy city traffic from kerbside) or above over an eight hour period. Prolonged exposure to noise above the average limit of 85dB can result in NIHL. For example, when listening to an MP3 player at full volume, this generates 100dB of sound, meaning you should only listen to it for a maximum of fifteen minutes or risk hearing damage.

Stephen Wheatley, Managing Director at LimitEar, commented: ‘With digital developments in music and audio devices, it is becoming more commonplace for people to plug in their own headphones or earphones while at work. This research is representative of Britain’s workforce generally but hundreds of thousands of employees – such as call centre workers and emergency services – are required to use headphones occupationally so are significantly more at risk of NIHL.’

Andrew Thompson, specialist inspector at the HSE, added: ‘While employees are listening to audio using their own devices at a volume they are in control of; employers still have a responsibility for the health and safety of their workforce.  As well as potentially contributing to hearing damage the uncontrolled wearing of personal headsets in the workplace may also have safety implications because of an impaired ability to communicate or hear warnings, alarms, moving vehicles etc. Employers allowing staff to use their own headphones or earphones must ensure that they are adhering to regulations and sufficiently protecting staff.’

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