Most Common Sectors Affected
Acoustic shock injury is caused by exposure to short, unexpected, high-frequency sounds. Symptoms of this condition have been described as numbness, burning sensation in or around the ear. As this condition affects the ears, a range of other conditions can occur, some of which being, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Factory workers and those who work around loud equipment and machinery are also at risk of acoustic shock as they may be exposed to sudden and unexpected sounds which can cause hearing damage. Call centre workers are commonly affected by this condition due to their prolonged use of telephone headsets. It is important that these workers are wearing the correct protective gear in order to reduce the risk of this happening.
The most common sectors of work in which employees experience symptoms of acoustic shock and industrial deafness are:
- Bars and Restaurants
- Call Centres
- Office Workers
Types of Acoustic Shock Injuries
Acoustic shock injury is generally divided into three different groups:
This happens just minutes after the event. It is a pain or discomfort in the ear which can cause an impairment and muffled hearing. Common symptoms associated with this group are fatigue, nausea and dizziness.
This usually develops within the following hours or days of the initial event. This can often lead to tinnitus which is a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears.
This does not develop immediately after the event but a short while later. Common symptoms that have been linked to this are anxiety and depression.
It can be difficult to determine symptoms of acoustic shock. In saying this, there are a number of symptoms that are similar throughout all three classifications. Symptoms of acoustic shock injury may include:
- Ear Pain
- Pain in the Neck and Jaw
- Anxiety and Depression
- Pressure in the Ear
- Impaired Hearing
- Feeling of Dizziness
- Difficulty Sleeping
Common causes of acoustic shock injury include:
- Sudden high-pitched noises
- Lack of protective equipment
- Breach in health and safety regulations
- An extended period of time using a headset
- Somebody shouting down the phone
Who is Liable?
If you have developed noise-induced hearing loss as a result of the negligence of another party you may be entitled to make a claim. In order to do this, you will need to determine who has liability for the injury. As acoustic shock is generally associated with workplace accidents and it is often an employer who is shown to be responsible for any injuries sustained. This is not always the case and employees can also act negligently which in turn may lead to accident or injury. There are certain activities that both employers and employees can engage in to ensure the health and safety of each other.
As an employer, your number one priority should be the health and safety of your employees. In order to do this, there are certain activities you should carry out to ensure this. All employers should carry out frequent risk assessments to identify hazards and eliminate any risks. This should lower the chance of workplace injury and accidents. Employers also have a duty of care to their staff to manage activities in a way which prioritises their safety. They should provide training for all employees so that they are capable of doing the job and will know the correct procedure if something does go wrong. It is important that all employees are provided with the correct protective equipment based on the job they will be carrying out. If an employer fails to do any of these things and an accident or injury occurs then they may be found liable and a claim can be made against them
Employees also have a duty of care to both their employer and co-workers. They need to ensure that they are not acting in a negligent manner which may lead to an injury. It is important that employees attend any training provided to them and ensure that they wear the protective equipment. If an employee fails to do this then the chance of an accident occurring becomes higher and they may be found liable for this if it is found that they failed to comply with company regulations.
Noise at Work
According to the HSA ‘Control of Noise at Work’ report, noise-induced hearing loss is the most common of industrial diseases reported in the EU. Employees who are exposed to noise levels above 85 dB are at an increased risk of damaging their hearing resulting in noise-induced hearing loss.
Hearing loss at work is usually gradual due to prolonged exposure to noise levels in the environment they are working in. It is only after years of exposure that some people realise how deaf they have become. In instances where a loud noise is sudden, symptoms are more quickly noticeable.
Noise Levels to Be Aware of
The higher the noise level and the longer you are exposed to it, the more at risk you are of developing a hearing impairment as a result. Here are some common noise levels to be aware of to help you determine the level of noise you have been subject to according to the Health and Safety Authority:
- 30dB – Quiet library
- 60dB – Conversation
- 70dB – Classroom
- 80dB – Tractor
- 90dB – Power Drill
- 100dB – Night Club
The following stats show the percentage of employees in certain sectors that are subject to high noise levels for more than a half hour of their working time according to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work:
- Manufacturing and Mining – 40% of employees
- Construction – 35%
- Agriculture, Transport, Communications – 20%
Preventing Acoustic Shock Syndrome
There are a number of elements that can be put in place to prevent hearing loss in work, some of which the employer should have in place to ensure the health and well-being of their employees:
- Machines should be designed so that they operate more quietly than they do.
- Employers should ensure that noise control measures are in place to reduce noise in their working environments and reduce employee’s exposure to noise.
- In cases where noise cannot be controlled the employer must provide employees with suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) – such as noise cancelling hearing protection.
- Employees must ensure to use any PPE given to them when carrying out their work.
According to the HSA, an employer should carry out risk assessments which should identify:
- The source of the noise.
- Employees who are exposed to the noise and at risk of injury.
- Necessary action to take to reduce the risk of injury.
- Other methods of work that may eliminate the noise exposure.
- Protective equipment needed to carry out the job safely.
- Any changes to make to the layout and design of the workplace.
- Safety training requirements of staff.
- Whether any noise cancelling tools need to be installed (sound absorbent coverings, shields etc).
- How work processes need to be organised, i.e. limiting the amount of noise one employee is subjected to.
An employer should take note of the following aspects when carrying out an assessment:
- Certain work tasks and the level of noise related to the tasks.
- Make an appropriate assessment of noise levels and risk to employees.
- Measure the levels of noise the employees are exposed to.
- Make assessments at regular intervals.
- Ensure that sampling during assessments is representative of daily exposure to employees.
Pay particular attention to:
- Level, type and duration of exposure.
- Effects of exposure to employees at risk.
- Possible effects of warning noises made by machinery and the possible effects of these on employees.
- Availability of alternative tools that make less noise.
- Providing protective equipment to protect employees hearing.
- Make any adjustments needed as soon as possible after the assessment.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Personal protective equipment should be used in cases where it is not possible to reduce the exposure of noise on an employee. In such cases, the employer should provide the employee with this equipment. A person may suffer an injury and the employer may be held liable if protective equipment is:
- Not provided (ear muffs, ear plugs)
- Not suitable for the level, type or duration of noise
- Not fitted correctly to a person – an employee should have a choice to ensure that it fits correctly and is comfortable and as a result works as intended
- Not properly stored or maintained
- Training is not provided on the proper use of the protective equipment
What to do if you have developed an Acoustic Shock Injury
If you have developed an acoustic shock injury there are certain things that you should take note of which may be helpful in the future. This includes;
- The date and time of the event which caused the acoustic shock.
- The duration of the exposure to the sudden noise.
- A description of the noise.
- Details of the protective equipment provided.
- Symptoms experienced by the injured person.
- Details on whether the incident was recorded.
What to do after an accident at work*?
Following an accident at work, there are a number of steps you should follow:
Seek medical attention
Your health is your wealth and should be your first priority. Immediately after an accident at work, take a second to assess yourself to determine if you have any injuries and seek the relevant medical attention. If you have sustained a serious injury ensure that you contact an ambulance to attend the scene.
For minor injuries, you must remember that minor injuries where you ‘feel fine’ could progress to more serious injuries in the future. In this case it is always better to be safe than sorry and advisable that you go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) or local GP to be checked out.
Report the accident
It is critical to report the accident to your superior, i.e. a supervisor or manager on site. It doesn’t matter how small you think the accident may be. By law, accidents at work are required to be reported if the person is injured and can’t perform their daily work tasks for more than three days. Make sure to fill out an Accident Report Form. This can be used for reference in any medical examination and will also prevent any similar accidents from happening in the future.
Identify any witnesses
If possible, try to collect the contact details of anybody that witnessed your accident. This may be of use if you do decide to pursue a workplace accident claim. It is also useful to find out if there is any CCTV in the area where your accident happened.
Document the incident
It is important that you collect all the relevant information in connection with your accident:
- How the accident happened
- Details of any witnesses
- If there are any CCTV recordings of your accident
- Take pictures of where the accident happened and what caused your accident
Speak to a workplace accident solicitor
If you are considering moving forward with a workplace accident claim for any personal injuries sustained, it is advisable that you speak with a workplace accident claims solicitor as soon as possible. If you are proceeding with a claim, the first step will be submitting your claim to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) for assessment. A workplace accident solicitor can help you in preparing your application to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) and ensure that you follow the process in the correct format, meaning that you can move forward with your claim quickly without unnecessary delays.
It is important to remember to keep copies of any expenses that you have incurred as a result of the accident. It is also imperative to retain copies of medical reports or incident report forms where possible as you will need them when making a claim.