The largest group of seafarers who are affected by abnormal audiometry results in hearing usually work in engine rooms. Hearing defects is one of the top causes of PEME failure. A study conducted by UK P&I in 2016 revealed that hearing defects as the main reason for failure has increased by 40%.

Good hearing is vital

Adequate hearing is essential for interpersonal and radio/telephone communications at sea. These communications often take place with background noise or interference and often have to transcend language barriers. Frequently failure to hear and respond to a message correctly is safety-critical. Additionally Audible alarms are the main function used on modern ships and systems to signal safety information. They form the usual means of arising attention of crew members or alerting those off duty.

Noise levels on board ships

Res. A.468(XII) has set specific thresholds for noise levels on board, while the ILO/MLC provides guidance on occupational hearing problems and how ships can comply with the required noise levels. Overall, ear protectors should be worn when the noise level is above 85 dB(A)

Area onboard dB(A)
Work spaces
.1 Machinery spaces (continuously manned) 90
.2 Machinery spaces (not continuously manned) 110
.3 Machinery control rooms 75
.4 Workshops 85
.5 Non-specified work spaces 90
Navigation spaces
.1 Navigation bridge and chartrooms 65
.2 Listening post, including navigating bridge** wings and windows 70
.3 Radio rooms (with radio equipment operating but not producing audio signals) 60
Radar rooms 65
Accommodation space
.1 Cabins and hospitals 60
.2 Mess rooms 65
.3 Recreation rooms 65
.4 Open recreation areas 75
.5 Offices 65
Service spaces
.1 Galleys, without food processing equipment operating 75
.2 Serveries and pantries 75

How to check for hearing problems

A seafarer may be rejected for on board duties due to hearing problems. The main practice to check one’s hearing is audiometry. When it comes for people working onboard, ILO MLC Appendix B provides specific guidance for the examination of seafarers hearing. In addition, all P&I Clubs include hearing examination in PEME procedures. Most procedures include tests to verify that a seafarer can hear specific thresholds of sound from a distance.

Key measures while onboard

  • Each ship needs to place warning signs in different areas for crew protection, including signs for the ear protection use.
  • Do not enter an area or space marked with such signs without using protection
  • Prefer to listen to music from loud speakers in a medium to low level than using headphones
  • Keep the sound level in your cabin as lowest as it can be.
  • Do not sleep with music on
  • Keep the duty hours with the use of ear protection as required.
  • Attend to see medical officer on board in case any hearing problems are identified.