Industrial deafness still common workplace injury
Industrial deafness as a workplace injury has been a known risk for many years.
The problem of industrial deafness, and how to avoid it, has been known to employers for many years. As long ago as 1963, that is 48 years ago, employers were informed by the then government of the danger. The guideline “acceptable” level of noise was a compromise between what could be achieved with the equipment installed in factories, and the safety of employees. So even at or below the “acceptable” noise level people could still suffer industrial deafness, but in theory the level of exposure meant a lower level of deafness. The compromise was to reduce the noise level for workers, but not to do it overnight to avoid too much immediate expense.
The level of industrial deafness depends upon the level of noise to which you are exposed, and the length of time for which you are exposed. It is measured as a dose.
For those who like figures the noise level at which industrial deafness would be caused was 90 dBA. The noise dose was averaged over an eight hour working day, and a dose beyond 90 decibels was to be avoided. That is not a high sound level, and one which might mean raising your voice to be heard.
As time went on more research was undertaken which led to advice that 85 dBA should be the new “acceptable” level. Not a great change you might think, until you appreciate that with every 3 decibel change the noise level doubles or halves. So the reduction in the “acceptable” noise level was very significant. The work which led to this change was produced between 1968 and 1986. The information available to employers has developed, so from what date must lower noise levels be adhered to?
Lawyers have argued over the point in time from which employers should have prevented industrial deafness for those working in environments beyond 85 dBA. A case recently went before our Supreme Court called Baker v Quantum Clothing Group Ltd.
This case decided that a substantial employer with the necessary resources should have taken the 85 dBA level seriously by 1983, and a smaller scale employer by 1985.
Hearing protection is often the answer to reducing noise levels. Beware as much of the hearing protection provided is either not suitable for the type of noise, or it is not worn properly.
Deafness is an injury which develops slowly, so workers exposed to noise often get used to the problem. The gradual nature of the injury means that historically the problem has not been seen as urgent. If noise caused an immediate and serious problem it might have been dealt with quickly.
The “acceptable” level of noise is known, there are methods available to reduce noise in the workplace, and there are some very effective protection systems available. Forty eight years after the warnings first became pubic we still have working environments with noise levels high enough to make those who work in them deaf.
I have conducted industrial deafness cases throughout my career. All accidents and injuries are preventable, but where is the will to actually prevent them?
For the Supreme Court case of Baker v Quantum Clothing Group Ltd click here.
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