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Massive ear damage liability resulting from headphones at work

Massive ear damage liability resulting from headphones at work

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

A quarter of the UK workforce use headphones whilst at work, putting them at increased risk of noise induced hearing loss, according to a study by audio technology company, LimitEar. Workers listen to an average of 110 minutes whilst in the workplace, and a further hour and a half (92 minutes) outside of work hours. In total, an estimated 7.6 million people in the UK are exposing themselves to over 3.5 hours of reproduced sound each day.

Industry experts from LimitEar, HSE, the UK’s national independent watchdog for health and safety, and business insurance specialist QBE Insurance are highlighting the need for employers to protect staff and themselves from the emerging risk of occupational noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). Despite the regulations being in place to protect UK employees, the majority of respondents (79 percent) are unaware that their employer is legally required to protect them from NIHL. The study also revealed that almost half (48 percent) of the respondents are concerned about losing their hearing, showing a growing need for employers to protect their staff effectively.

Stephen Wheatley, Managing Director at LimitEar, commented “With digital developments in music and audio devices, it’s becoming more commonplace for people to plug in their own headphones or earphones whilst 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 is a Specialist Inspector (Noise and Vibration) with the HSE, the UK’s national independent agency for work-related health, safety and illness. He added that “Whilst employees are listening to audio using their own devices at a volume they’re 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’re adhering to regulations and sufficiently protecting staff.”

Mike Barraclough, Senior Risk Manager at QBE Insurance, added, “Noise Induced Hearing Loss claims have increased 40 percent in the first year following the Jackson Reforms. Employers need to take pro-active steps to manage their employees’ exposure to noise. In addition, employers must also provide evidence of such actions in the event of a Noise Induced Hearing Loss claim being pursued, to increase the prospect of successfully defending such claims” 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. The research results come from a survey of 2,000 UK employees – commissioned by LimitEar – looking into the awareness of the European regulations, headphone usage and attitudes towards their hearing health.

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