Thursday, May 17, 2012

a workplace injury rendered my dad unable to hear women

My dad has worked in factories all of his life. Before safety equipment was supplied by the workplace, he'd often come home complaining of headaches. He'd also come home with all sorts of injuries such as cuts and bruises and the occasional concussion.

Of the longer lasting injuries my dad has suffered, his hearing loss has been the worst. Dad's employer deals in fabricated metal products. The metal cutters emit high pitched noise all day and the extractor fans in the spray paint booths and the enamel ovens emit a low hum all day. Both of these types of noise are considered dangerous in the workplace. The high pitch because it causes damage to hearing, which is what happened to dad. We used to joke that he couldn't hear women's voices. There was a character in one of his favourite TV shows (Will and Grace) who had a particularly high voice, and he said he couldn't hear any of her lines.

When dad eventually had his hearing tested, he was missing a whole range of hearing. The doctor attributed this to the tools used in his workplace.

Whilst these days things are safer and employers have more accountability under legislation, some things are still not taken seriously.

Low background noises that we all tune out as we toil away, whether we are in a factory, retail or an office, can cause all kinds of issues that are especially insidious because we can tune them out. Tuning these noises out does not mean they don't affect us.

The main affects of persistent low or background noise in the workplace are:

  • lack of concentration - this is pretty straightforward. Many people need silence or normal level noise to concentrate. A noise you can't quite hear can cause you to strain, either consciously or unconsciously, to focus on the noise.
  • loss of productivity - the distraction of background noise can take our attention from the task at hand, reducing our ability to sit still and complete tasks.
  • headache, tiredness and nausea - prolonged exposure can not only affect our work, but also our health.
One of the biggest problems with persistent low or background noise is that not everyone is affected in the same way either because they can effectively block it out, or because it can be localised in certain parts of the workplace.

When this is the case, those who are affected can appear to be hypochondriacs or kooks. It is important for employers to investigate all reports of employee discomfort. Even if it doesn't uncover an actual workplace environment issue, it could highlight an issue with an individual that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.

In my current work environment there is a persistent hum that is loudest at my desk. I didn't report it for weeks, suffering from regular headaches and lack of concentration. Recently I was overcome with a wave of nausea and a headache that would not go away. As a contractor I lost a day's pay staying home nursing my head. Upon my return to work I discovered that others were noticing the noise. I reported the problem immediately and it is currently under investigation.

I truly hope they find something fixable, or at least something real!

Scientific American: Background Noise
Occupational Annoyances: The Dangers of Low Noise

Post a Comment