Top tips to help you look after your staff’s hearing

By Stephen Wheatley, HearAngel

If your staff use headphones, or work in a noisy environment, or are exposed to loud noises on a regular basis, then it’s your responsibility to help protect their hearing.
Human beings have about 15,000 auditory hair cells in each ear at birth; once they are gone, they are gone – and so is your hearing. Exposure to large sound doses regularly and repeatedly can cause irreparable damage to the hair cells within our ears.
A sound dose is a complex calculation taking into account how long you listen for, how loud you listen and the energy content of what you listen to.
For example; speech is relatively low energy content, so you can listen for a long period of time at a relatively high-volume level without experiencing a particularly high sound dose,
However, electronic dance music has a high energy content so will give you a large sound dose in a relatively short period of time.
You, your staff and your colleagues are likely to be typical of the general population, with a high percentage wearing headphones to listen to music, to game, and to watch videos – often during their commute.
In addition, your team may also be experiencing high levels of sound exposure in bars, clubs, at gigs, sporting events or perhaps even from their hobbies, especially if they enjoy shooting or motorsport.
This level of recreational sound exposure could be harming their hearing permanently.
Let me give you an example; if they commute by underground and use a normal pair of headphones the safe listening period could be between 30 and 45 minutes in any 24 hour period.
Imagine, they leave work, travel home for 45 minutes, spend two hours gaming then go to a gig, returning to work the following morning. In a say 15 hour period they could easily have had four to six times their safe sound dose exposure for a 24 hour period.
They then spend a day at work where they have to or are allowed to wear headphones, which contributes further to their sound dose exposure.
At the end of the working day they press repeat and on it goes.
So why should this be of any concern to you? Because, as an employer, it is your responsibility to protect your staff and therefore you could be pursued for compensation related to hearing damage.
Those people in your company who are required to wear headphones at work must be protected in line with the NaW Regulations.
But those who are allowed to wear headphones to listen to their own content are still owed a ‘duty of care’.
So, what can you do?

  1. Forbid them from wearing headphones – this seems a little draconian and would undoubtably be unpopular.
  2. Supply them with good quality headphones for use at work with built in volume limiters or preferably personal dosimetry in line with the NaW Regulations.
  3. Provide them with protection for their own headphones.
    1. If they are using their smartphone they could download a hearing safeguarding app for headphone users, such as HearAngel, which will give them information on their exposure, much as a FitBit monitors physical activity. The app will let them know when they are overdoing it and enable them to make informed decisions and protect them automatically if required to do so.
    2. Alternatively, provide them with retro fit volume limiters or personal dosimetry in line with the NaW Regulations from LimitEar.
  1. Provide information about choosing the right headphones, or if you are supplying them, then be sure to choose the right type:
    1. If they listen on public transport, they should consider upgrading from ear buds to good quality over-ear headphones. The over-ear cups will reduce the background noise so they can listen at a lower level, extending their safe listening period. These are also ideal if they work in a noisy open-plan office.
    2. If they travel on very noisy public transport or work in a noisy environment, they should consider getting active noise cancelling headphones. These use clever electronics to reduce the background noise even more allowing them to further reduce their listening level and extend the safe listening period.

Finally, it would be worth considering a hearing test for all new employees to give you a starting point, supported with periodic routine testing to identify any hearing damage as early as possible.
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