Hearing health in the workplace is an important health and safety issue, and it is easy to overlook the impact that everyday sounds can have. A ringing phone, the chatter of colleagues or more obvious noise such as factory machinery or loud music can all have an effect on your employees.
Spending a little time and effort considering your workplace and its current practices will be a "sound investment" in your business and employees.
The latest figures show that hearing loss is having a big economic impact across the globe, with a burden of $750 billion annually. It's the same amount as the gross domestic product of the Netherlands or the health expenditure of Brazil and China combined. The financial impact of hearing loss is estimated to be over €178 billion for the European Union.
But a loss of hearing is the most costly for employees. Workers who suffer from hearing loss likely experience feelings of isolation, as simple communication becomes more difficult, leading to frustration. From missing important information in meetings and calls to more serious health impacts, hearing loss significantly can affect an individual's quality of life. It is important to monitor hearing health in the workforce, as it can increase the risk of isolation and depression which – in people who do not hear well – is twice as high as those who have no hearing difficulties at all.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Productivity
Through miscommunication due to poor hearing, business efficiency may suffer when employees have hearing loss. Tasks might take longer to complete as instructions are misunderstood or need repeating. There also is a risk that the employee may appear uninterested when in reality, he or she is struggling to hear fully, or even at all.
This also can lead to workers feeling isolated as they struggle to interact with colleagues, and it has a negative impact on teamwork and can cause fatigue and distress for the individual. Unaddressed hearing loss is associated with an increased probability of having some cognitive decline; this can be up to five times higher in cases of profound hearing loss. In fact, people with hearing difficulties are twice as likely to be unemployed than people who hear well.
Along with cognitive decline, hearing issues also affect balance, which increases the risk of workplace falls. This obviously is terrible for the individual and can impact company workflows if staff need time off work.
Every year, £640.7 billion pounds are spent worldwide due to unaddressed hearing loss, over £18.8 billion pounds in the UK alone. It is an enormous amount of wasted resources, which is quite impressive, but not surprising.
In fact, hearing well plays a vital role throughout people's entire lives, and ignoring any hearing loss can have a great social, and therefore, economic impact.
What Can Employers Do To Help?
The World Health Organisation is calling for action for hearing loss and have shared tips on how decision makers can address hearing loss:
- Allocating suitable resources to the issue of occupational hearing loss.
- Integrating ear and hearing care into current health systems for employees, including baseline hearing tests for new employees and regular hearing testing for employees exposed to noise.
- Building human resource capacity to deal with issues related to hearing loss.
- Implementing early identification and intervention programs to spot problems sooner – hearing loss is an "invisible" disease.
- Increase awareness about hearing loss and hearing protection among supervisors and managers, as well as workers.
- In locations where noise cannot be reduced through engineering or administrative controls, issue suitable protective equipment and continually review processes to eliminate noise whenever possible.
Barry Downes is an audiologist with 40 years of experience. He is based at Amplifon's head office in Manchester where he works as the professional services manager. For further information, visit www.amplifon.com/web/uk/-/world-hearing-day-2017 .