An individual with a hearing loss can be just as productive an employee as someone with perfect hearing, provided the right adjustments have been made in the workplace to enable them to perform to the best of their abilities. Special equipment, although helpful, is not always necessary, though it is important that the rest of the staff are made ‘deafness aware’ so that they know how to communicate effectively with a person suffering from hearing loss. This will encourage communication between all staff members.
Explaining Hearing Impairment to Staff
To give your staff the best deafness awareness training a professional adviser can be called in from one of your local deafness charities. Advice can then be given on the best workplace adaptations to make and explain lots of the basics to relevant staff. For example:
- Not all deaf or hearing impaired individuals have the same needs.
- Not all hearing impaired people feel the same way about their hearing loss.
- Whilst sign language is a useful tool it is only really appropriate for use with people who suffer from complete hearing loss.
- The majority of people who have impaired hearing do still have some residual hearing faculty left, but there will be no outward indication to tell you just how much they can still hear. This residual hearing level can also change throughout the day depending on both environmental factors such as background noise or the physical or emotional state of the individual.
- Language used is no indication of the level of residual hearing.
Setting Up the Office
There are a number of ways that you can make the office environment more suitable for someone with a hearing impairment. For example:
- Ensure that their workspace is well lit as they will need to have a clear view of the face of the person they are communicating with, but be careful to avoid lighting that is too harsh.
- Remove things from the environment that can limit the flow of sound, for example glass partitions or baffle boards.
- Try not to make desks so wide that it makes communication across them difficult.
- Try and place the employee with the hearing impairment in the quietest part of the office where there is the lowest level of background noise.
Health and Safety
There are also a number of things that can be done to ensure that health and safety levels are maintained to a high standard:
- Ensure that all fire alarms/evacuation alarms are fitted with flashing lights.
- Flashing emergency lights should also be installed in staff toilets, staff rooms and storage areas; anywhere where a line of sight to the main alarm could be obscured.
- The staff evacuation drill, for example in the event of a fire alarm, should incorporate a buddy system, so that people leave in pairs.
- All health and safety information, such as tool box talks, emergency operation procedures or machine operation presentations should also be presented in a written format.
- Make sure there are torches by workstations in case of power cuts or smoke so that everyone can find their way out safely.