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May 3, 2011

A Dog’s Bark Is Worse Than Bite For Hearing Damage!


While a grumble is generally the limit of our response to having been awoken by the dawn chorus, the more aggravating annoyance of incessant dog barking may necessitate reporting as an anti-social nuisance, if the noise becomes a regular occurrence. However, there is a more serious complaint, which can arise over a period of time when actually working with dogs, and has led in some instances to noise induced hearing loss.

A little known fact is that hearing damage can be caused by working with animals, especially ‘working dogs’. Professional dog handling is a common cause of suffering hearing loss with frequent barking volumes often exceeding 80 decibels, and not infrequently, reaching 120 decibels.

As a result, handlers working everyday in enclosed spaces with dogs, such as inside vans or kennels, will have little or no escape from the constant noise, not dissimilar, in fact, to working near loud machinery in factory surroundings and suffering the consequences in the form of industrial deafness.

As with working within heavy industry environments, it is vital to wear adequate hearing protection and obtain accurate risk assessments to prevent serious long term impairment to hearing. Despite advances in health and safety regulations awareness training, even within the last ten years, there have been a number of reported cases of dog handlers pursuing claims for noise induced hearing loss after decades of driving insufficiently soundproofed vans, one of the most common causes of complaint.

A recent case involved a guard dog handler responsible for up to four dogs at a time barking constantly inside his van as he carried out routine daily patrols. A medical examination revealed irreversible inner ear damage caused by ‘chronic noise exposure’, and now the handler has to wear hearing aids in both ears and ear defenders at all times while on duty.

A noise survey conducted with dog handlers at Royal Air Force bases travelling in vans and subject to aircraft noise during foot patrol, found that nearly 10 per cent of respondents were affected by age-corrected hearing loss exceeding 10 dB, with an average of over 4 and 6 kHz frequencies, affecting the left ear only.

While there were no differences between dog handlers and control subjects, and the measured noise exposures of police dog handlers did not exceed current legal limits, it was determined that noise levels were often reached, which would give rise to legal health and safety concerns for companies/employers who use dogs for security or other professional/commercial purposes.