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Tuesday, 16 March, 1999, 03:59 GMT
Modern industry blamed for hearing loss
Headsets may damage your hearing
Thousands of people working in modern industries like call centres may be unknowingly at risk of developing permanent hearing problems, according to a study.

The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) and the TUC have launched an Indecent Exposure campaign to draw attention to the problem of work-based hearing problems.

They say many people are unaware of the damage jobs like working in a call centre can do to their ears.

They want employers to take action to reduce noise levels, employees to be more aware of the dangers and the Health and Safety Executive to ensure they enforce noise at work regulations.

They also want more research into the dangers of noise in industries where the problems are not understood and into the risks posed by headphones and headsets.

Dulled hearing

A survey found that nearly a quarter of people said they were listening to uncomfortably loud noise for more than four hours a day.

One-third said their hearing was dulled by listening to loud noise during the day.

Nearly a half were worried about noise levels affecting their hearing.

And 56% were not given any information about the dangers of noise at work by their employers.

Motorcyclists at risk

In the rapidly expanding call centre industry 90% said they had been given no information about the risks, suggesting that employers do not appear to be responding to their workers' concerns.

Some 39% of call centre workers in the survey said they had suffered tinnitus or dulled hearing as a result of being exposed to loud noises through headsets.

The number of people working in call centres is expected to reach one million by the year 2000.

Other occupations singled out as risky include motorcycle couriers, who suffer from exposure to air turbulence which is increased by wearing a helmet.

Disc jockeys and sound engineers are also affected by having to listen to loud music through headphones.

Decibel levels

The RNID says hearing is at risk if people listen to noise over 85 decibels for prolonged periods.

Ordinary conversation is around 60 decibels. Shouting is 80 decibels and the normal pain threshold is 140 decibels.

The RNID and the TUC say around 1.3 million employees are likely to be exposed to noise levels above 85 decibels.

They believe hearing problems are widely under-reported and that, even when ear protection is provided, it is rarely used.

James Strachan, chief executive of the RNID, said: "One could be forgiven for seeing the manufacturing industry as the last remaining culprit of noise at work, but new service industries are creating new ways to damage your hearing."

He added that once hearing was damaged, it could not be restored.

'Noisy as factories'

John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, said: "We may have lost much old industry, but that does not mean noise at work is no longer a problem.

"Call centres are as noisy for their workers as many old-style factories.

"Thousands of call centre workers, many in their 20s, are already losing their hearing thanks to unsuitable headsets."

RNID: "A number of people are leaving call centres with tinnitus"
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