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May 23, 2011

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Speaking out loud and shroud


The hearing of people working in the UK’s music and entertainment industry is being placed at risk, IOSH has warned.

As part of Noise Action Week, which runs until 27 May, the Institution is calling for better awareness of how to protect the hearing of people who work in the sector, and urging employers to safeguard their staff’s hearing by using some simple, low-cost techniques.

IOSH points out that, in the UK, 21,000 people a year experience work-related hearing problems, while 10 per cent of adults suffer tinnitus constantly. Peter Wilson, an IOSH course trainer who teaches techniques in noise risk management, says, in the worst cases, noise damage can cause severe tinnitus — which can lead to sufferers developing mental-health problems.

Jason Kinch — aka DJ JFK — has lived with tinnitus for 20 of the 25 years he has been working in the industry, and, in 2000, almost suffered a breakdown because of the condition.

He said: “The problem with tinnitus is that it’s in your head, and the more you listen for it, the worse it gets. When I was told I’d irreparably damaged my middle hearing range it was hard to take, as I thought it would ruin my life.

“But, over the years, I’ve found ways of dealing with it, like focusing on positive sounds like breathing, instead of the ringing, to help me sleep. I always wear earplugs now, but the thought that if I’d worn them then it would’ve saved my hearing never quite leaves me.”

Busting some of the myths surrounding loud music, Wilson explained: “People think that earplugs ruin the quality of the music they hear. This is wrong, and it actually makes it easier for you to hear people who are talking to you while music is playing. It’s also a myth that louder is best, as our ears actually become numb to certain levels of sound when it’s played at a higher volume, meaning you appreciate it less.”

He continued: “One extra dose can be all it takes to begin a lifetime of hearing problems, and while people might think the things they do now aren’t having an impact, later in life they could find they become partially deaf. That does apply to the crowd too, but for unprotected staff the likelihood becomes so much higher — they’re the people we really want to reach.”

The introduction of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 prompted the NEC Group, Birmingham, to formulate a policy aimed at protecting staff at all its venues. Its policy has since been used as a blueprint for other UK arenas.

Gemma Prosser, safety, health and environment manager for The NEC Group, said: “We have an occupational-health department that gives employees regular hearing checks, monitoring potential issues people may have. We also regularly monitor sound at events like concerts to make sure we’re not exceeding exposure limits.

“And, we communicate how important it is that staff wear their earplugs and hearing protection — and the team leaders ensure they are actually wearing them while here in their work environment.”

IOSH is encouraging employers to adopt the following measures to reduce noise risk:

  • angling speakers away from bars and on to dance floors;
  • rotating staff to give people breaks from noise;
  • engineering-out high frequencies;
  • providing rest areas and breaks;
  • providing ear plugs, or defenders;
  • using dose meters to test noise; and
  • giving employees hearing tests.

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12 years ago

Check out our film, Sound Advice, on hearing safety in the music industry. Featuring musicians, DJ JFK, Paul Gray, Wurzel, Syd Arthur, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, as well as technicians from John Henry’s, discussing how noise induced hearing loss has affected their lives and careers. Senior Audiologist at Addenbrookes Hospital, David Baguley, discusses the science behind NIHL and stresses what needs to be done to protect your hearing.