Welcome Guest! The IOSH forums are a free resource to both members and non-members. Login or register to use them

Postings made by forum users are personal opinions. IOSH is not responsible for the content or accuracy of any of the information contained in forum postings. Please carefully consider any advice you receive.



Go to last post Go to first unread
#1 Posted : 05 January 2018 08:36:35(UTC)
Rank: Forum user


I have received a complaint from a new member of staff who has Tinnitus about the hearing protection we use making their Tinnitus worse.

The area they work in is lower action noise level of approximately 81dB over the shift. We have completed considerable work to reduce it to this level and further reductions are not considered practicable. So we made the decision to make it compulsory that staff wear ear protection whilst working in this area as a final control measure to ensure their exposure will be below 80dB. We offer staff the option of wearing ear plugs or ear defenders.

My question as anyone come across this situation before and if so is there any PPE out there which would be suitable in protecting their hearing but not making the Tinnitus worse.



Edited by user 05 January 2018 08:50:16(UTC)  | Reason: spellling mistake

A Kurdziel  
#2 Posted : 05 January 2018 09:22:23(UTC)
Rank: Super forum user
A Kurdziel

Could it be that the noise reduction in the ear is making the tinnitus more audible rather than louder? In that case whatever you do will make the tinnitus “worse”.

#3 Posted : 05 January 2018 09:26:55(UTC)
Rank: Super forum user

It isn't a case of making the tinnitus worse by wearing hearing protection, rather that the condition is more intrusive for the sufferer when external distraction is filtered out.

Ear muffs with a manufacturer built in radio provided relief for one sufferer at a previous employment - these were issued on the understanding the employee personally funded the batteries.

thanks 1 user thanked Roundtuit for this useful post.
A Kurdziel on 05/01/2018(UTC)
#4 Posted : 05 January 2018 09:52:39(UTC)
Rank: Forum user

As a person who suffers from partial hearing loss & tinnitus  Caused by excess workplace noise over many years I can sympathise with your new member of staff . I do find that when I use hearing protection be it the defender type or the foam in ear type it does indeed appear to increase the level of tinnitus My employer has even paid  to have the custom made  in ear type hearing protection for me with the same result . My own thoughts on this are that by wearing the ear protection it reduces all the surrounding noise & therefore makes you concentrate more on the tinnitus the same happens when I sit in a quite room . There are some cases of people who have so severe tinnitus that the only relief they get is by playing what I believe is called white noise which is supposed to cancel out the tinnitus I would imagine this works by giving the brain something elso to concentrate on. Understanding tinnitus for someone who is not a sufferer is very difficult I have days where I can go all day without noticing it & other days where it drives me to distraction my audiologist explained it this way its like your brain is replaying all the loud noises youve heard in the past back to you but at a high pitch.

For further help on this your employee may find it useful to look at this web site for information https://www.tinnitus.org.uk/all-about-tinnitus

But at the end of the day my own opinion on this is ear defence can only help with the problem by protecting what hearing has not been damaged & would not make it worse ( unless its not being used in the correct manner of course ).

My advise to anyone who works in a noisy environment is make yourself aware of how noisy it is I.E. if you need to raise your voice in conversation when you are approx 1-2 mtrs apart its probably to noisy protect your hearing once its gone its gone for life I didnt take it seriuosly when I was younger now I'm paying the price.

Sorry if I rambled on a bit & I hope this helps

thanks 1 user thanked AL58 for this useful post.
webstar on 05/01/2018(UTC)
#5 Posted : 05 January 2018 10:06:11(UTC)
Rank: Super forum user

Hi - this is a really a specialist area and you may need advice from an audiologist.  Initially you need some information from the individual's specialist with regard to the nature of their tinitus and what will help it or make it worse. It can be a difficult one to finally sort out but it can be done.  I have experience of someone needing special tinitus masking ear muffs, I don't think plugs generally help where tinitus is concerned.

#6 Posted : 11 January 2018 11:01:16(UTC)
Rank: Forum user

Thanks for all the replies.

I have spoken to the member of staff to clarify the problem and it is that the tinnitus is more noticable.

We are going to try the radio ear defenders to see if that helps and if not seek advice from occupational health


#7 Posted : 15 January 2018 12:30:10(UTC)
Rank: Super forum user

The level of protection your plugs / muffs are likely providing are between 20 and 30dB.  It is no wonder that this is exacerbating someones (even mild) tinnitus, this is definately over-protecting (if you noise level is only 81) and can lead to other problems - reduced sense of self-awareness, notice of alarms, people or vehicles etc... 

I would reconsider the need for hearing protection at all, or make it optional, there is no requirement to enforce the use of hearing protection at this level - although it is true to make sure that you identify and protect all workers hearing, especially those perhaps at additional risk (those with existing damage).

The consideration of ear-muffs which play the radio (again at this low noise level) would in my opinion likely increase the individuals exposure to noise, not reduce it.

The other option you have to reduce their exposure and not require them to wear hearing protection would be working away from this area for a short period of time during the day.  I assume the 81dB exposure is over an 8 hour shift (measured by actual dosimetry which takes into account rest breaks andlunching away from noise sources), if you can organise their work to include working in a less noise area even for 30-60 minutes, their noise exposure would most likely come down to below 80.

Hope this helps

#8 Posted : 15 January 2018 14:45:55(UTC)
Rank: Forum user


As a few others have said, I don't think the noise level really warrants making the work area mandatory. As above, you will more than likely be over protecting which, as you know, will import other risks.

It might be worth giving this worker a personal dose meter for a couple of weeks to ascertain what their actual LEP,d is. Not only will this give you a true reflection of their noise exposure but also provides evidence that you are further risk assessing those employees are greater risk.

If you do decide to go with with ear protection then I would purchase those with a low attenuation value. Given the noise level of 81dB(A) though I would probably do the following:

  • Purchase some stock of low attenuation ear plugs and make them available.
  • Provide a noise map for colleagues to view and bring it to their attention i.e. areas where the exposure is above the dB(A) lower/upper action levels and those areas where the dB(C) sound pressures are above the lower/upper.
  • Consider briefing all staff on noise, it's effects on the ear and what they can do to minimise hearing loss. I've also made this applicable to activities undertaken outside of work too i.e. for younger workers... nightclubs, loud music in cars etc etc.
  • Review your risk assessment every 12 months (or if any work practices change bla bla bla).

The cost of providing ear protection and making it mandatory can be quite expensive and in this situation there isn't really any need to.

Hope that helps!

Edited by user 15 January 2018 14:46:44(UTC)  | Reason: Not specified

Users browsing this topic
You cannot post new topics in this forum.
You cannot reply to topics in this forum.
You cannot delete your posts in this forum.
You cannot edit your posts in this forum.
You cannot create polls in this forum.
You cannot vote in polls in this forum.