For employees with a hearing impairment,Â the presence of sound in the workplaceÂ can be a daily challenge and a sourceÂ of frustration. Robin ChristophersonÂ looks at how employers can manageÂ potential problems.
Wherever you work, andÂ whatever your role, thereÂ is a strong chance thatÂ you are routinely bombardedÂ by noise from aÂ variety of different sources.Â Telephones ringing, printers whirring,Â music playing on the shop floor or the constantÂ hum of colleagues talking in a open-planÂ office, the world of work is full of sound.
According to the Health and Safety Executive,Â around 17,000 employees in the UKÂ experience deafness, ringing in the ears orÂ other ear conditions caused by excessiveÂ noise at work.
Action on Hearing Loss estimates thatÂ at least 800,000 people in the UK are severelyÂ or profoundly deaf, but this is a smallÂ proportion of the 10 million people withÂ some form of hearing loss, of which it estimatesÂ that 3.7 million are of working age.Â There are no exact figures on the numbersÂ of people who use British Sign LanguageÂ (BSL) to communicate, but the estimate isÂ around 50,000.
An employeeâs hearing can be impairedÂ in many ways; there is a whole spectrum of
hearing ability and there are lots of differentÂ causes of hearing loss, as well as a varietyÂ of possible implications in the workplace.
Types of hearing impairment include:
- temporary or permanent;
- progressive; and
- environmental factors.
Impacts of a hearing impairment
As hearing is not something we can âseeâ,Â it can be difficult to determine whether orÂ not a colleagueâs hearing is impaired. ThisÂ can make it difficult for line managers toÂ know who to help, and when.
In meetings, presentations, networkingÂ events or interviews, a hearing impairmentÂ could have an impact on an employeeâs abilityÂ to do their job, if they are not properlyÂ supported or if the working environmentÂ is not inclusive of their needs.
There can also often be an emotionalÂ response to hearing loss, which impactsÂ on the social and wellbeing of the employee.Â If you are unable to hear what colleaguesÂ are saying clearly, you might missÂ out on vital information needed for yourÂ role, or you might miss the latest bit ofÂ office banter, which makes you feel isolatedÂ and excluded, having a negative impactÂ on morale.
Employees with a hearing impairment areÂ protected under the Equality Act 2010 andÂ employers are required to remove the barriersÂ that deaf and other disabled peopleÂ experience in the workplace. There are aÂ number of different ways to ensure that anÂ organisation is accommodating the needsÂ of deaf or hearing-impaired employees.
Benefits of technology
We are all using technology in the workplace,Â without really thinking about it, asÂ part of our day-to-day communications.Â How much of the information you shareÂ with colleagues or clients is via the phone,Â email, your intranet, website, a PowerPointÂ presentation or a short video? The answerÂ is, of course, nearly all of it.
Technology can work as an enabler asÂ well as a disabler. A message from your organisationâsÂ CEO via video on your corporateÂ intranet can be a really powerful wayÂ to communicate with your workforce, butÂ if that video does not have subtitles or captions,Â you are excluding a proportion ofÂ your staff, not limited to those with a hearingÂ impairment but also people whose firstÂ language is not English.
A variety of technologies can be used inÂ the workplace to support employees withÂ a hearing impairment. There are someÂ specialist programs available that are specificallyÂ designed to support people withÂ hearing loss, but many of the mainstream programs and equipment that your organisationÂ already uses could also be adapted atÂ little to no cost. They include:
- text messaging, and email;
- amplified sound alerts built into PCs;
- a flashing screen on a mobile device whenÂ a sound alert is triggered;
- bluetooth to connect to hearing aids;
- captions for videos;
- BSL on-demand services;
- video calling for signing or lip-reading;
- palentypists and stenographers; and
- voice recognition speech-to-text software.
Sometimes the most effective adjustmentsÂ are made by simply utilising existing resourcesÂ in a different way. For example, ifÂ important company announcements areÂ often given over a tannoy or PA system,Â which would be difficult or impossible forÂ someone with a hearing impairment to hear,Â you could also issue the same message viaÂ email or text message.
There are also times when specialist adjustments,Â such as using a palentypist or BSLÂ interpreter, need to be arranged. It is importantÂ that the individual employee gets theÂ adjustment that they require, when theyÂ require it â because no two people with aÂ hearing impairment are the same.
This article highlights the many advancements that have been made in the field of hearing protection at work, and ten years after theÂ Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 came into force we should have completely eradicated high levels of noise or the need to control it into the workplace, the original of this article can be found here.