Since we were established in early 2019, the UKHCA have been proud of our multidisciplinary membership. The unique value of the UKHCA is to bring together a wide range of different perspectives, professions, knowledge and passion together to be a force for change, influence and awareness raising.
Our members range from audiologists, acoustic engineers, music professionals, hearing protection manufacturers and suppliers, occupational hygienists, health and safety professionals and other professional bodies and charitable associations.
What are our priorities?
Having consulted with our membership we have decided to establish a number of ‘Special Interest Groups’ to progress action in our priority areas for influence and change Hearing Conservation; At Work, At Leisure, In Educating Young People, In Music & Entertainment. We are also reflecting feedback from members who have expressed concerns and ideas for progress in specific areas and will also be establishing working groups to look at hearing checks and health surveillance, noise exposure in the military and opportunities to influence noise exposure and audibility issues through design.
Below is a summary of just a few of the key areas, challenges and opportunities for the UKHCA and our soon to be established delivery groups;
Management of Noise Exposure at Work
Hearing health damage from exposure to excessive noise is an invisible, irreversible, largely untreatable yet wholly preventable set of conditions that continues to plague our workforce.
We know there is still a lack of impetus to apply the hierarchy of control to noise, with an over focus on measurement and default to hearing protection. There are many examples of self-financing noise controls solutions, saving money and supervision costs through investment in design, planning and engineering controls. Some of these consist of fan technology, using new materials, dampened or deadened materials, silencers on compressed air, isolation of noise and or equipment and intelligent use of machine guarding. So why is it that not much has changed in the last 30 years?
One aspect which must contribute to this will be the competency of consultants and the quality of noise reports from this service. An HSE review in this area found a lack of competency and highlighted significant concerns around the clarity of reports and their usefulness in communicating key actions and priorities for dutyholders to follow up on. In the UK there is £1.2b spent on 3rd party health and safety advice. So, if companies are investing in these services they should be getting value – or maybe would actually be best spending this budget on known effective control solutions!
Reliable noise data seems to be a lacking resource available to many companies. Researchers and organisations have collated a range of exposure levels for common noisy tasks and activities. The UKHCA wish to make this data available in a useful, accessible and relevant format to allow dutyholders to focus more on action than measurement.
Hearing Checks & Health Surveillance
The primary goal of hearing health surveillance is to allow for early identification of ill health and subsequently allowing for corrective actions to be put in place. Hearing health surveillance also offers a great opportunity to engage workers on looking after their hearing health and allows a one- to-one conversation about the risks of noise exposure. Unfortunately, the reality is that the current approach to hearing health surveillance is not allowing early intervention and prevention as it only identifies permanent, irreversible hearing damage that has probably accrued over many years of exposure.
In addition, we have a lot of anecdotal feedback from those delivering hearing health surveillance that the HSE hearing damage categorisation scheme is flawed and is therefore potentially missing numbers of workers who should be flagged as having noise damage.
We want to challenge the current status quo on hearing health checks and gather evidence for an improved approach that may involve clearer criteria on competency of providers and improved categorisation of results. We also wish to look at other hearing tests that may better represent real world hearing and communication needs or provide earlier signs of damage that can be acted on and reversed.
Design for audibility and preventing sound transmission
Our ears are designed to listen and hear in an outdoor space and so building walls has led to an unnatural hearing experience and an increase in noise levels. This results in negative health responses. Noise leads to stress especially when a person may already be stressed in that environment such as at work or in a hospital. Increased noise levels result in a variety of ill health conditions, whilst conversely good sound environments have been shown to improve sleep quality and increase recovery rates in hospitals.
We also have people within our leisure and work environments who already suffer a hearing loss. 40% of over 50-year olds have a hearing loss and in the UK we can take 10 years before we address this issue by seeking medical support or hearing aids. Those with a hearing loss obviously need a stronger sound signal in order to be able to hear. However, the noisier an environment the worse the ability to hear.
We can solve these issues by thinking at the design stage about how we want sound to travel in a space and the kind of acoustic experience we need. Obviously not every space will require or need the same sound environment. But designing for good acoustics and user needs can prevent a lot of health risks, stress and dissatisfaction for users in the future.
Does the choice of hearing protection actually match the protection needed? We have much anecdotal evidence that audibility is a real workplace concern where there is reliance on hearing protection as the key noise control solution. Many employers opt for ‘over protection’ thinking they are providing the ‘best’ solution, but this brings isolation, barriers to communication and inability to hear warning signals.
We obviously want to shift people away from reliance on hearing protection, but also to educate those specifying, procuring and using these devices to ensure that where they are needed they can be used properly, safely and with confidence that they do their job. One question the UKHCA will be exploring on an international platform is the use of ear fit testing as a tool to engage and educate in this area.
Lots to do!
So, in conclusion – we have a lot to do! But we have great support, and we are organising ourselves to focus on key issues and bring together knowledge, collaboration and influence to effect real change and promote new ways to deal with hearing health to conserve hearing health for all. The aim is that through cross discipline learning and cross profession influence we have the greater potential for finding a coherent message as well as a coordinated response to agreed priorities.
If you would like to join us or are interested in our activities you can join us through this link or contact Clare via email below:
Founder & Director
UK Hearing Conservation Association