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How to protect employees from Tinnitus

Article by Gavin Scarr Hall, Director of Health & Safety - Penninsula

One in ten UK adults are impacted by Tinnitus.

Tinnitus is a condition most typically caused by a prolonged exposure to loud noise, or even an isolated blast of loud noise.

It’s usually described as a ringing, buzzing, hissing or other sounds in the subject’s ears or head. And whilst for some it may be a mild irritant, for others, tinnitus can have a detrimental impact on mental health, relationships, and working life.

In fact, almost one half of tinnitus sufferers (42%) says the condition has an adverse impact on their work, with the main effects being poor concentration, difficulty in hearing, and exclusion from conversation.

Those who spend time in environments where sound levels regularly exceed 80-85dB are at greater risk. Think construction and factory workers, musicians, bar staff, airside ground staff…

However, all employers, regardless of industry, must consider if they’re doing enough to limit the risk of tinnitus – or other hearing-related conditions – to keep their staff safe.

For instance, cleaners may be at risk owing to the noise emitted from vacuum cleaners, motorcycle couriers, nursery staff, and dentists too, could fall prey to tinnitus.

This Tinnitus Awareness Week, employers should aim to facilitate conversation about the condition, and explore ways in which to effectively reduce risk, and manage it.

Ultimately, employers have a duty of care to protect staff from loud or prolonged noise, and to neglect this duty can mean a one-way ticket to claims for hearing issues. This means employers must assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from noise exposure to protect the hearing of employees.

Taking proactive steps to minimise the risks of tinnitus for your workforce will avoid problems further down the line. Here are some tips for making your workplace safer:

  • Carry out a workplace noise assessment
  • Provide protection from excessive noise levels, such as ear plugs or ear defenders
  • Make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded
  • Provide employees with information, instruction, and training
  • Carry out health surveillance where there is a risk to health
  • Consider the sound levels of power tools and machinery when buying new equipment
  • Organise assessments to identify equipment, support and any reasonable adjustments that can help employees with tinnitus work more easily
  • Make employees aware of the various sound therapy products that are available and can offer tinnitus relief

Almost one in five tinnitus sufferers feel their condition has hindered their career progression, and as such, a large number of people opt to keep it hidden from their employer and colleagues as they fear it might affect their job prospects. However, if undisclosed, tinnitus can become a daily struggle.

Ensuring that your workplace fosters a culture of open communication where any concerns around medical issues, or anything else, can be raised will enable to staff to feel better supported. Facilitating these conversations can also allow a plan for support going forward to be actioned which will in turn promote improved productivity and satisfaction.

Compensation for severe tinnitus and noise induced hearing loss can vary from £27,890 to £42,730; a sum that every business will want to do their best to avoid, particularly in the throes of a cost-of-living crisis.

    Gavin has a wealth of experience leading development, construction, TIC, and asset management businesses in both the private and public sectors. As Director of Health & Safety at Peninsula, he has responsibility for both our internal H&S as well as shaping the strategic direction of the client-facing team. Gavin provides comment to the press on all areas of Health & Safety.

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