Handling Hearing Loss in the Workplace
People who routinely work in noisy environments are at a higher risk for developing hearing loss. In many cases, people with a measurable amount of hearing loss are not even aware of the issue.
Hearing Loss Statistics Canada
Results from Canadian Health Measures Surveys compiled between 2012 and 2015 show that 40% of Canadians between the ages of 20 and 79 exhibit some degree of hearing loss. Granted, that is a very wide age range, but the hearing loss percentage for people between the ages of 40 and 59 is also just over 40%. The majority of cases in this age range often remain unrecognized and untreated until hearing loss becomes severe.
Continued exposure to loud noise on a daily basis typically means hearing loss is gradually getting worse and because the progression is slow people are generally reluctant to take action.
What qualifies as a “Noisy Work Environment”?
When picturing a noisy workplace, it may bring up images of jackhammers and heavy machinery. However, even a vibrant office space with lots of activity and employees could be deemed a noisy work environment.
One way to determine if you are working in a noisy environment is the arm length test. If you are not able to communicate with a person within arm’s length of you without raising your voice, it is considered a noisy workplace. It is reported that more than 40% of Canadians between the ages of 16 and 79 are working in what qualifies as a noisy work environment. Many of the people working in these loud spaces do not use any form of hearing protection.
Tips for Managing Workplace Hearing Loss
There are several strategies and useful practices that help make workplace hearing loss less of a burden and a detriment to performance. Some helpful tips include:
- Don’t ignore the issue
- Disclose your hearing loss to employers and colleagues
- Explore accommodations
- Extra preparations
- Assistive listening devices
- Hearing aids
Address the Issue Head-On
Ignoring hearing loss only serves to introduce further complications which generally ends up making the problem worse. Unfortunately, the majority of people with hearing loss neglect the issue for as long as possible which makes it much more difficult to manage once assistance is finally sought out.
Disclose Hearing Loss to Employers and Colleagues
Once you have taken action to deal with your hearing loss and have received a professional diagnosis, discussing the issue with management and co-workers can be beneficial to your workplace comfort and performance.
Constantly telling people to speak up or trying to piece together conversations or presentations as best you can is not an effective strategy. Communicating your hearing loss concerns to the people you work with can be very helpful in implementing a plan of action to adapt to the situation.
Disclosing hearing loss challenges to your employer offers a great opportunity to explain how you would like to remain as productive as possible but the noise in the environment is presenting obstacles. Things like requesting written communications whenever possible and using hearing compatible telephones can be helpful. Online conferencing software like Google Meet has built in closed captioning to facilitate effective communication.
Ask for meeting agendas in advance to familiarize yourself with the content and request written summaries of meeting minutes whenever possible. Taking extra time to prepare in advance can help take some of the stress out of meetings and other workplace communications.
Assistive Listening Devices (ADLs)
There is a wide variety of ADLs available to help improve workplace communication for people with hearing loss. Frequency Modulation (FM) systems can be a useful tool in noisy environments. These wireless assistive hearing devices can help people with or without hearing aids achieve clearer communication over distance and in loud settings.
Hearing aids are quite often the most practical solution for managing hearing loss. With an extremely wide range of devices to choose from, there is something to accommodate almost any situation. Speak to a hearing loss professional about which hearing aid may be right for you.