Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is hearing impairment resulting from exposure to high decibel (loud) sound – either immediate damaging exposure (such as standing next to a firework when it explodes) or long term exposure (working with noisy machinery).
Hearing problems occur when the microscopic hair cells found inside the ear are damaged by noise levels. If enough of them are damaged, hearing loss results. (possibly illustrate)
Every year in the UK many thousands of people suffer NIHL (deafness, ringing in the ears or other ear conditions caused by excessive noise at work.)
It is an extremely common workplace injury yet can be easily prevented. In the vast majority of cases, NIHL is a gradual injury that sneaks up on workers with the damage taking place slowly over a prolonged period of time – depending on the noise level and length of exposure.
Young or old, once you damage or lose your hearing you can never get it back. The damage caused is irreversible and will not just affect someone’s working life, but every aspect of their family or social life too.
There is no visible evidence that NIHL is taking place and this is the biggest challenge for Health and Safety managers. Very often it is not painful or traumatic and can easily go unnoticed. NIHL builds over time with every unprotected exposure to damaging noise levels. A worker will only realise there is a problem long after the damage is done.
Anyone who works in an industry or workplace where the noise levels are regularly above 85 decibels is at risk of damaging their hearing unless they have adequate protection.
The level at which employers must provide hearing protection and hearing protection zones is 85 decibels (daily or weekly average exposure) and the level at which employers must assess the risk to workers’ health and provide them with information and training is 80 decibels.