Do you know the loudest environment to work in? You might think it's a building site, a factory or a nightclub. Many are surprised when they are told that call centres rank alongside these as among the loudest places to work?

The number of people suffering from hearing problems is on the increase and many developing problems as a result of their working environment, the decibel (dB) levels reached in the workplace are certainly something all HR departments should be aware of.

The infographic below produced by Johnson Law, gives some guidance about dB levels, and highlights many of the risks associated with exposure to high levels of noise.

The infographic gives some examples of dB levels in the workplace include widely-used tools such hand drills, which measure 98dB, and chainsaws, which are 115dB.

Employees, who are constantly exposed to 80dB or more, are among the one million people in the UK at risk of developing industrial deafness.

So exactly how loud is 80dB? Well, normal conversation measures up to 66dB. This means that acoustic trauma is not only linked with the construction industry, but can affect employees in any workplace. It's a good idea to familiarising yourself and your team with health and safety measures that offer auditory protection if you find that it's necessary.

You should be aware of the relevant legislation in place to protect employees from suffering acoustic trauma and your responsibilities as an employer.

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Noise Regulations 2005) states that employers must 'prevent or reduce the risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work'.

The steps to protect your employees can range from providing the right ear protection and making sure that it's being used correctly to assessing and altering the layout of the workplace to minimise excessive noise levels.

Staff should also be advised to give their ears time to recover if exposure to loud noise cannot be avoided. Ideally, this would mean 16 hours in a quiet environment if exposed 100dB of noise.

Audio trauma in the workplace can also lead to a common condition that currently affects around 10% of the UK population – tinnitus. Tinnitus can be described as hearing a sound, such as ringing or humming, from within the body.

While tinnitus can be caused by anything from a common cold to earwax, the most common cause is prolonged exposure to loud noise, and like industrial deafness, can be prevented.

If any of your employees suffer from tinnitus, recommend listening to relaxing sounds is often a helpful distraction, and cognitive behavioural therapy can help manage symptoms. Ensure staff with tinnitus are offered support in coping with their condition.

Industrial deafness and tinnitus may not be conditions that you associate with your business, but keep your ears open at work, and you may be surprised how loud it is.

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