Bars serving up hearing loss to staff told to “drop the volume”
31 August 2007
The hospitality industry is this week the focus of a new Department of Labour health and safety campaign to raise awareness around the issue of noise induced hearing loss.
Maarten Quivooy, the Department’s Group Manager of Workplace Services, says the Department will be warning people that exposure to loud noises at work can damage people’s hearing.
“Hearing loss will affect how people communicate – at work, with loved ones, and with friends,” he says. “Our message to bars and night clubs is pretty simple - drop the volume!”
Mr Quivooy says the Department will be using New Zealand Safety Week (3-9 Sept) to alert people to the dangers of workplace noise generally, but the hospitality industry is a special focus. Local health and safety inspectors will be calling into bars for an informal chat with hospitality workers. The Department is also running a nation-wide advertising campaign warning that occupational noise - “It’s no joke”.
“We believe the dangers of noise are not as well understood by those running or working in bars and nightclubs as it is in other industries. The Health and Safety in Employment Act sets levels of noise that should not be exceeded. People do not need to be experts to identify if noise is an issue at their workplace, and to take steps to reduce the dangers of noise.”
Mr Quivooy says steps to control noise in any workplace setting should focus on the source. Hearing protectors for employees should be considered a last resort, once all other practicable steps have been taken.
“Most permanent hearing loss does not happen immediately – loss occurs over time. Temporary loss of hearing should be taken as a warning that a person is at risk of permanent hearing loss,” he says.
The Department of Labour visited 820 workplaces last year to assess workplace noise levels and give information and advice about noise reduction and has an ongoing work programme related to noise in the 2007 / 2008 year.
To find out more visit: www.dol.govt.nz/itsnojoke
To the journalist: Please note that Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) should now be referred to as the Department of Labour.
Facts about noise induced hearing loss:
- The more time a person’s ears are exposed to excessive noise, the greater the degree of hearing loss. More time equals more acoustic energy and hence more damage.
- The damage that results is irreversible, and treatment is limited.
- Regulation 11 of the Health and Safety in Employment Regulations 1995 states the levels of noise exposure that should not be exceeded. There are two exposure limits – an “average” level (over 8 hours) of 85dBA, and a “peak” level of 140dB.
- The human ear is not particularly good at detecting the differences in volume, particularly at higher sound levels. By way of example, a sound level of 97dB(A) – not unusual in nightclubs – delivers twice as much energy to the ear as one of 94dB(A), yet it doesn’t appear twice as loud.
- Current ACC statistics indicate that total costs of noise induced hearing loss to New Zealand exceeds $40 million per year (double that of 5 years ago).
- About 4000 new serious injury claims are made to the ACC annually, which is 11 new claims for every day.
- Noise induced hearing damage appears in the top 5 of all claims.
- People suffering from occupational deafness experience a distortion of the sounds they hear, as they lose the ability to hear at some speech frequencies. In particular, the ability to hear consonant sounds such as t, k, s, sh and p is reduced, and people can no longer distinguish between some words, or indeed what is being said.
- Hearing aids offer very limited benefit for some people with noise-induced hearing loss.
- Performance in reading, writing and listening tasks is affected by noise. These tasks, and those requiring a steady posture, are also disrupted, particularly by sudden bursts of noise.
- Many common drugs are recognised as affecting the inner ear and the hearing mechanism (these are known as ototoxic drugs). One of these is alcohol. Ototoxic drugs can interact with noise to compound its effects on hearing. This is why people often need to shout in bars – the hearing of people who have been drinking is impaired.
- Other ototoxic substances include many common antibiotics, nicotine, carbon monoxide, some diuretics and analgesics.
- Exposure to some hazardous substances can also damage peoples hearing. The way it affects a person’s hearing is different to noise induced hearing loss, but the consequences for the person are the same.
- Chemicals that can contribute to hearing loss include: solvents such as toluene, styrene, xylene, n-hexane, and ethyl benzene; asphyxiants such as carbon monoxide; metals such as lead and mercury; and pesticides such as organophosphates.