World Tinnitus Day: Mai-Britt Beldam, Ecophon Saint-Gobain – Tinnitus in Teachers
About 10 years ago, a research study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Health in Denmark showed that male teachers were more likely to develop tinnitus than both male constructions workers and carpenters – despite the fact that the sound environment is defined as NOT as noisy1,2,3.
At the same time, statistics showed that 5 out of 6 teachers with tinnitus didn’t get their tinnitus recognised as an occupational injury by The National Board of Industrial Injuries (now Labour Market Insurance)4.
These numbers are rather peculiar, don’t you think? The overall reason why the teachers didn’t get their tinnitus recognised was because they couldn’t prove that they had been exposed to sound pressure levels between 80-85 dB all day long – 5 years in a row5,6. Because this is how you get tinnitus! Or is it?
Fast Forward eight years and things have changed, right?
Today we know a lot more about tinnitus and how it can be developed – so let’s take a look at a newer report about the same topic: teachers (+ pedagogues), noise and tinnitus.
Unfortunately, the latest survey by the National Institute of Occupational Health in Denmark showed that 6 out of 10 teachers (and 7 out of 10 pedagogues) were exposed to unwanted noise more than a quarter of their working day.
Half of all pedagogues were exposed to such high sound pressure levels that they had to shout to be heard by a colleague standing next to them – for A QUARTER of their working day. The same was true for every third school teacher7.
This is what the teachers and pedagogues state themselves – and unfortunately, they are still in the risk zone of getting tinnitus despite the lack of proof. Today, it is just as hard to get tinnitus recognised as an occupational injury as it was 10 years ago. And the teachers not only still have to prove high sound pressure levels, they also have to have tinnitus in both ears AND have hearing loss. If they cannot prove all of that – they didn’t get their tinnitus because of work!
Acoustic research supports the teachers
Working in the field of acoustics I believe that we have to help the teachers BEFORE they get tinnitus – because it is nearly impossible for them to prove that they ‘got it’ just by doing their job and frankly, nobody should get permanent disabilities from work.
Acoustic research has, for many years, shown that teachers complain about high peak and background levels in the classroom. It can be difficult to measure a constant sound level over 80 dB – that will most likely never happen in learning environments in a school. Despite that, we have seen that teachers suffer in rooms because of the bad acoustics (and acoustics can still be poor even when the sound levels are below what the Danish Labour Market Insurance defines as causing hearing damage).
Good classrooms mimic acoustics in nature
Bad acoustics in classrooms are not only about high sound levels – but is also about late reflections, long reverberation time and poor speech clarity. We need to create learning spaces that look more or less like the outdoors where the ‘acoustic sky’ will be the sound absorbing ceiling. Also, we need to mimic wide open spaces (sound absorbing wall panels) where the sound propagates and travels far without coming back.
We need to understand that even calm behaviour and great class discipline can cause a lot of noise when the acoustics of a room are poor. Working in such conditions WILL have a negative effect on teachers. We cannot close our ears; we WILL get tired and stressed if our hearing never has a calm moment. It does not always take 80-85 dB, 8 hours/day, 5 years in a row to get tinnitus. Sometimes all you need are high peak levels during the day and a constant babble from the classroom.
Improving the acoustics could prevent tinnitus and can have so many other benefits as well – e.g. it can cause better behaviour from students and/or improve the inclusion of hearing impaired children8 or even lower heart rates for teachers (lower stress levels)9. Maybe if we work with the room acoustics during the next decade, tinnitus will not be such a big problem for teachers…
- National institute of occupational health – Report: Noise and health 2006
- The Work environment in Denmark 2000″, January 2002
- The Danish National Association for Better Hearing, February 2002
- The National Board of Industrial Injuries – 2015
- National institute of occupational health – Report: Noise and health 2014
- The Essex Study – http://www.acousticbulletin.com/EN/Ecophone_Essex_6ppA4_v8_LO_Singles.pdf
- Acoustic Ergonomics of Schools, Bremen University, 2006 (conference proceeding on the topic: http://www.acousticbulletin.com/EN/SS07-014.pdf)