Skip to main content

Deaf Awareness Week: The need to uphold hearing protection standards in the Military

By Gruffydd Owen, a specialist military injuries lawyer at Irwin Mitchell

This week is Deaf Awareness week, and we're using this as an opportunity to raise awareness surrounding Noise Induced Hearing Loss (“NIHL”) and tinnitus within the Military. 

NIHL and tinnitus are some of the most common types of enquiries that we receive in the Irwin Mitchell Military injuries team.

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of their job, most military personnel are naturally exposed to loud noises through gunfire, aircraft engines, explosions and general work equipment; as a result, the Ministry of Defence has an obligation to minimise the risks to the hearing of personnel involved in these activities when not in combat situations, and it is shortcomings in these respects that typically lead to personnel seeking advice.

Hearing loss and tinnitus are often irreversible and life-changing conditions.

Hearing protection

The type of hearing protection provided to military personnel varies depending on their roles, but personnel are often provided with over the ear Peltor hearing protection, as well as separate inner ear buds which are intended to fit snugly into the ear. Unfortunately, these are not always fit for purpose for a variety of reasons.

Whilst the Peltor hearing protection can be effective on firing ranges, they may not always be suitable when working with heavy duty armoured vehicles, which may require further specialised hearing protection. 

Conversely, the ear buds typically allow for more flexibility which can be helpful when personnel are engaged in dynamic work, such as moving firing ranges which involve intense exercise, running, crawling and jumping which may make the larger headsets unsuitable. 

However, such activities are still very loud with gunfire and simulated explosives meaning that personnel can be exposed to noise. This can be particularly high risk when wearing the ear buds which, if poorly fitted, can often come loose during exertion, leaving personnel at high risk of exposure to excessive noise.

Training, guidance and enforcement

It's also crucial that suitable training, guidance, and enforcement are applied to ensure that personnel continue wearing appropriate hearing protection when at risk. For the majority of personnel, this will not be an issue. However being in the Military is a high intensity, busy role, which can lead to important safety considerations being unfortunately overlooked.

Personnel are not always given adequate training to ensure they are fully aware of the risks of NIHL and how to avoid it, whilst guidance and enforcement is also not always applied as rigorously as it should be by those in command.

A few common themes we see from personnel seeking our advice are:

  • Having to take hearing protection off whilst still exposed to noise (such as on firing ranges) so that they could hear commands.
  • A wider culture that expected them not to wear hearing protection around other team members, even where there was ongoing noise relatively close by.
  • Being placed in situations where it's too difficult to retrieve hearing protection in time, such as where aircraft are landing nearby, or weapons are fired unexpectedly.

A culture of protecting hearing should exist

These are all easily avoidable scenarios and it is therefore important that a culture of protecting personnel’s hearing as much as is reasonably possible, is maintained and enforced, along with providing personnel with the appropriate and adequate hearing protection that allows them to undertake their role unhindered.

As specialists in this area, we see first-hand the avoidable nature of many NIHL injuries which is often caused by inadequate protection.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell’s expertise in supporting Military personnel affected by NIHL at our dedicated Military Hearing Loss Claims section.