Since we launched this blog last year, we have reported on the rise of noise-induced hearing loss claims and the impact these can have on a business. According to the Institute of Faculty of Actuaries, it looks as though the number of UK industrial deafness claims hit an all-time high in the first half of 2015, topping the previous peak of 50,000 claims back in H1 2013. Price Waterhouse Coopers, who analysed the data, noted that the number of claims in the first six months of the year was 3 percent higher than in 2013. Although claims are rarely successful, the process is expensive and time-consuming for employers. Importantly, this shows that industrial deafness or noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) remains a common safety and health problem. Clearly, we are some way away from the original EU/HSE’s aim back in 2005 to have no new cases of occupational noise-induced hearing loss by 2030!
Here we look at noise exposure in the workplace specifically, how to keep your workers safe and sound from noise and avoid being served with costly noise-induced hearing loss claims.
Occupational deafness has been around for decades and, in fact, an increase in the number of cases led to the Introduction of the Noise at Work Regulations in 2009. The Regulations which are in use today were last revised in 2005.
Safe and sound from noise at work: what is noise?
Noise is used to describe loud, sudden, harsh or irritating sounds. It can be transmitted through the air, by reflection from surrounding walls or buildings or through the structure of a floor or building. Noise can also be transmitted from a piece of equipment or tool itself and the ground. This is typical of the construction, extraction, demolition, processing or manufacturing industries where the use of equipment such as pneumatic drills, grinders, compressors, chain saws or boring machines is common.
Does noise always lead to hearing loss?
Our hearing structure is unique and very sensitive. Noise in its most damaging form can lead to ear damage on a temporary (acute) or permanent (chronic) basis. However, if noise levels and the duration workers are exposed to noise are well controlled and monitored, hearing loss can be avoided. The use of correct hearing protection when required to do so is important also here. A noisy working environment is far from ideal or safe as it may lead to a loss of concentration, tension, headaches, voice strain and, in extreme cases, high blood pressure.
How to keep your workers ‘noise safe and sound’?
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005) in the UK specify action levels at which the hearing of employees must be protected. You need to be fully aware of this aspect of the Regulations.There are 3 levels that demand attention. 85 decibels (daily or weekly average exposure) is the level at which employers must provide hearing protection and hearing protection zones. 80 decibels is the level at which employers must assess the risk to workers’ health and provide them with information and training. Finally, 87 decibels is the exposure limit. The conclusion as to whether any of those levels has been breached is reached after an assessment of noise levels has been made. Put simply, you will need to measure noise with a sound level meter and/or personal noise dosemeter that read and/or record sound pressure levels (SPLs) in decibels, expressed as dB(A). Peak sound pressure which is the highest noise level reached by the sound is required also. Whoever takes noise measurements will need to ensure that they are taken at the working stations closest to the source of noise and over as long a period as possible, particularly if there is a variation in noise levels during the working day.
This is only one part of the process as the Regulations make provision for additional safeguards against noise at work such as:
- Providing correct hearing protection devices
- Undertaking regular personal noise monitoring, especially if there is any indication that a worker might be exposed to noise hazards.
- Implementing noise engineering controls
- Training employees on noise conservation
We hope this article has given you a good basic overview of how to keep your workers safe and sound from noise.
For more information on hearing loss at work, the Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005) and how to manage noise risk at work, have a look at:
- Managing noise risks at work
- Hearing loss at work – don’t get complacent!
- 5 reasons to measure noise at work – even if you think you don’t need to
How do you safeguard your workforce against noise? Do you agree with our advice? Do you want to add to our blog with your own experience in this area? Do share your comments via the box below!
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This blog appeared first on Pulsar Instruments’ website on 8th September 2015
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