Most of us take our hearing for granted and it is central to our health, well-being, communication, independence and quality of life. Over nine million people in England, approximately one in six, are living with some form of hearing loss; around 4.4 million of working age. This can range from a partial to a total inability to hear, but deafness and hearing loss needn’t be a barrier to people applying for and excelling in most jobs. All that’s needed is understanding and support from managers and colleagues. Our latest article looks at the health and safety considerations when employing people with impaired hearing.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 doesn’t include any disability-specific requirement for employers. But, under equality law, you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments so a deaf employee or an employee with hearing loss isn’t put at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ compared with everyone else.
Always the first starting point and we recommend offering employees who are deaf or have hearing loss a Workplace Assessment. This will identify simple changes you can make to remove barriers for your employees, so they can perform at their best. During a Workplace Assessment, an assessor looks at the employee’s needs and recommends the most appropriate support and equipment in a detailed report. Usually, some very simple, low-cost adjustments can make a big difference. Once you’ve established what adjustments your employee needs, make a record of what these are and implement them. You should also schedule regular catch-ups with your employee to check how the adjustments are working for them and whether or not they need amending.
Review your policies to make sure they’re adequately supporting deaf employees and employees with hearing loss. Policies should be in plain English, which will be helpful to staff with hearing loss and those whose first language isn’t English. You may also want to make some or all policies available in British Sign Language (BSL).
Suggested changes to make your workplace safer include:
- Fit flashing lights to audible smoke or evacuation alarms.
- Install emergency flashing lights in toilets and storerooms, or areas where closed doors may obscure vision.
- Fit a ‘visual alert system’ such as a flashing light on any device that could be a health or safety risk – for example, a light that flashes when machinery is operating.
- Make sure the workplace is well signposted.
- Any information that is given verbally should also be available in writing.
Using the phone
Provide appropriate equipment. Some deaf people can understand speech over the phone, however, they may need a phone that amplifies sound or a headset that works with their hearing aids.
Create a good listening environment. Background noise can be challenging for deaf people who use hearing aids or cochlear implants, so they may prefer to work in a quieter area.
Work environments can be adjusted to take the needs of a person with hearing loss into consideration. While specialised equipment is helpful, training staff in deafness awareness is even more important. For example, most people are unsure of how to best communicate with a person who has a hearing loss. Communication will improve if staff members are shown what to do.
It is essential for you to understand your obligations regarding hearing impairments in the workplace. This helps minimise risks and better accommodate for hearing impaired employees, both now and in the future.
For further information on Health and Safety considerations when employing people with impaired hearing, please contact us here.