Who's at risk of hearing problems

Hearing loss after military service is common due to exposure to high levels of noise. In fact, noise-induced hearing problems or tinnitus are the second most common disabilities experienced by military personnel. Overall, hearing loss is far greater in the military and former military personnel than in the general population. 

Despite often having maximum hearing protection, those serving in the armed forces are exposed to such loud noises that hearing loss can still occur. And, they are unable to avoid noisy environments or take breaks as they are required to stay in loud environments. 

 

To avoid hearing loss after military service, hearing protection must be worn and regular hearing check-ups and tests are required. 

 

Support is available to those experiencing hearing loss after military service. 

Hearing loss in the military

Industrial Hearing loss 

Did you know?  

There are around 1.5 billion people currently experiencing hearing loss worldwide. And, 1.1 billion young people (aged between 12-35) are at risk of avoidable hearing loss.

This figure is expected to rise, and those with disabling hearing loss are expected to reach 700 million people by 2050. 

Hearing loss is becoming more prevalent among the population due to lifestyle changes, such as urbanisation, a rise in headphone use and large amounts time spent listening to personal devices, and increased life expectancy. 

With 1 in 6 adults of working age experiencing hearing loss in the UK, hearing loss in industries is particularly prevalent. 

Industrial hearing loss, or hearing loss in factory workers, is known as occupational deafness. The causes of occupational deafness are: 

  • Working in noisy environments 

  • Having prolonged exposure to loud noises (long shifts) 

  • Inadequate hearing protection 

  • Lack of information 

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Currently, it is estimated that 14,000 workers are living with work-related hearing problems in the UK. These could have been avoided if proper action was taken and information about hearing well-being was accessible to all workers. 

 

There are two components to industrial hearing loss, these are:

  1. Hearing loss after noise exposure. This is a one-time exposure to a severely loud and intense sound. For example, an explosion. 

  2. Hearing loss after repeated exposure to loud sounds, such as drills or machinery. 

Exposure to any sounds above 85 decibels for more than eight hours is considered to be dangerous. This is reduced to just 15 minutes if the sounds are 100dB. 

 

There is a misconception around where you’re most likely to experience hearing loss. Traditionally, the industries where you’re likely to come across loud noises are:

 

  • Construction 

  • Agriculture 

  • Maintenance 

  • Entertainment and music

  • Emergency services 

  • Aviation and aeronautics 

  • Sport 

  • Military 

 

If you experience hearing loss while working in these industries, it is likely due to consistent exposure to loud noises.  For example, a siren in an ambulance or fire engine is around 110 decibels - this is 25 decibels above the level considered dangerous. However, increasingly open plan offices are becoming noisy environments where workers are subjected to frequent, and inconsistent levels of noise. This can then lead office workers to pop in their headphones, which can be equally as damaging as working in more industrial environments. 

Hearing loss in factory workers

Occupational deafness is particularly high in factory workers, as the machinery often  generates consistent loud noise. It is estimated that nearly half of all factory workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels. 

 

How to reduce hearing loss in factory workers:

  • Start monitoring noise levels and noise exposure 

  • Ensure regulations are understood by workers 

  • Implement a hearing protection zone

  • Provide hearing protection devices and training on how to use the devices

  • Make sure hearing protection is worn 

  • Instigate regular hearing tests and check-ups 

 

These suggestions are not limited to factory workers. They should be implemented by all industries and in all work environments where there are high levels of noise. 

 

What is a hearing protection zone? 

A hearing protection zone is an area of the workplace where hearing protection must be worn. A hearing protection zone should be made clear and marked with signs to inform and instruct workers. These zones are supervised to ensure hearing protection is being used correctly. 

It is the employer’s duty to provide training and information on using hearing protection, as it is to ensure the protectors are maintained and in working order. 

 

When is hearing protection required in the workplace? 

In workplaces, wearing hearing protection is optional in environments where noise levels are between 75 and 84 decibels. Hearing protection is required and compulsory (by law) when sound levels reach 85 decibels. Hearing protection is mandatory in all hearing protection zones. 

It is advised to wear hearing protection in environments where hearing becomes uncomfortable, which is usually around 75 decibels. 

 

Where is hearing protection required for employees? 

Workers are required to wear hearing protection in hearing protection zones, or any environments where sound levels are 85 decibels or above. 

 

We have more in depth information about how to reduce noise hazards in the workplace or how to prevent hearing loss in the workplace on our help and advice page. 

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This hearing hub is intended to be purely informational. If you have any kinds of concerns about your hearing, we recommend speaking to a doctor or audiologist.