Work-induced deafness to be 'eradicated within a generation'
Exposure to noise that is quite literally deafening is a serious issue for over 2 million workers in the UK and steps are being taken to tackle the problem.The problem, and steps being taken to combat it, were the subject of a London conference, Sound Off this week.
Tighter regulations to reduce the risk of work-induced deafness, tinnitus and other hearing problems are due to come into force next year and will affect a broad spectrum of traditionally noisy industries such as construction, engineering, waste disposal and recycling.
HSE guidance on the regulations was launched at the conference by work and pensions minister Lord Philip Hunt, who stressed the vital need to address the issue.
"I don't think there can be any doubt about the importance of dealing with
this noise induced hearing loss," he told delegates.
"Exposure to noise can cause real health problems."
"In Britain over 2 million people are exposed to noise above 80 decibels.
170,000 are suffering deafness, tinnitus or other hearing conditions as a
Lord Hunt described a very clear trend of reducing cases up until '1997/98 but since then further reductions have been sporadic.
Up until 1997 an eye-opening 80% of claims for benefits for ailments caused in work were related to hearing.
The adoption of new regulations to bring the UK in line with the latest EU directive on noise at work will provide an opportunity to focus attention on the issue.
"We need to spread the message, we need to raise our game and ratchet up the control measures," said the minister.
The new regulations will come into force for the majority of sectors in April next year, though the music and entertainment industry have been given an additional two years to comply as they have been ruled to be a special case.
"I'm not a killjoy and the last thing I want is to stop people enjoying
themselves but we have to protect workers' health as well," said Lord Hunt on the prickly issue of making the music industry quieter.
"We need to get the balance right and I don't think anyone should be in any doubt that these regulations are proportionate."
The regulations will replace those introduced in 1990 and while there are several changes in the small print the key difference will be reducing the volume of noise that workers can be exposed to by 5 decibels, with upper and lower action limits shifting from 90dB and 85dB to 85dB and 80dB respectively.
According to the HSE's website this is the difference between the background noise in a busy street and a heavy lorry rumbling past some ten yards away.
While the impact of work-induced hearing loss on individuals affected was obvious this was not just a problem for those concerned, but for the nation as it had a significant impact on the economy due to lost days at work and incapacity, said Lord Hunt.
He conceded there would be a cost to industry in implementing measures to meet the new requirements but insisted the initial expense would save money in the long run.
"I have no doubt whatsoever in terms of the bottom line and the amount of
working days lost that to tackle this will make sense," he said.
Dr Elizabeth Gibby, director of injuries reduction at the HSE, made the bold statement that employment should not make you deaf and in coming years cases of damaged hearing from work conditions would be consigned to the history books.
"Sensible health and safety is a cornerstone of a civilised society," she told delegates.
"It's important to keep people healthy and productive and in employment.
Work, after all, is good for people's health."
"Hearing loss is preventable. We believe we can eradicate new cases or
hearing loss caused by work within a generation."
By Sam Bond
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