Armed Forces Deafness And Tinnitus Causes
Military service can involve exposure to a huge variety of loud noises – some of them can be incredibly loud bursts of sound that only last for a very short time whereas others can involve being exposed to lower, yet still dangerous volumes for long periods of time.
Particular dangers arise from:
- Gun and Artillery fire
- Explosions from bombs or missiles
- Explosions from mortars, mines or IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices)
- Vehicle engine noise (particularly ships, tanks, trucks and armed personnel carriers)
- Aircraft Noise (pilots, air crew and ground crew)
- Brass Bands
Anyone who is regularly exposed to volume levels of 85 decibels or above should be trained in how to deal with high volume exposure and should also be provided with suitable personal protective equipment; in this case hearing protection. Unfortunately in many situations military personnel are unable to adhere to some common health and safety procedures that are designed to limit the risk of hearing loss; for example taking regular breaks away from the noise source. This strategy is unlikely to be used during a battle of any kind, even if breaks from the front-line are implemented.
Guns and Weapons
Any exposure to loud noise can cause damage, but particular focus should be given to those operating firearms, as any burst of sound above 140 decibels (db) can cause irreparable damage to the hearing. When shooting a .45-70 Rifle the average volume is 155-159db, discharging a 9mm Luger Pistol will emit between 159-163db each time it is fired, whereas the average hand grenade gives off around 158db when it explodes. Even a light anti-tank weapon will give off around 184db. Anyone firing, or within the vicinity of others operating such weapons should be provided with significant hearing protection, and even that may not reduce the noise effectively enough to reduce damage.
Driving, sailing or flying might sound less dangerous when it comes to protecting hearing, yet the engine rooms of ships can be incredibly loud; some smaller vessels average 98-103db whereas in some missile gun boats the average noise level can be 120db. The loudest place on a ship is on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier where volumes can reach 160db. Pilots are not spared either; the average noise experienced within a Gazelle helicopter is 97db, the Lynx helicopter averaged 100db, and jet trainers and fighters average 100 – 106 db.
While not as severe as the noise associated with explosions, the high levels of sound that military band musicians are exposed to during performances and rehearsals can also be dangerous. Musicians of all types have to be very careful about their hearing, and those in the armed forces are no exception. The sound made by a full brass band playing loudly can exceed 155db, so suitable hearing protection should be provided for those who regularly perform and rehearse as a part of their military service.
By monitoring and regularly testing the hearing of armed forces personnel, the risk of damage to hearing can be limited by reducing exposure for those who are showing potential signs of hearing damage. Failing to recognise or appropriately deal with cases of hearing loss or damage can lead to prosecution for all types of employers, and that includes the MOD.
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