Excessive or loud noise at work can damage your hearing. This usually happens gradually and sometimes is only noticed by the individual as they age, and noise-induced hearing loss combines with hearing loss due to ageing.
Failure to manage the problem can be costly for employers. For example, in 2014, a company was prosecuted and fined £15,000 plus substantial costs as a result of excessive noise levels caused by production machinery and a failure to implement training, warnings, noise protection and occupational health monitoring.
Civil claims can also be brought against the employer by employees that suffer work-related, noise-induced hearing loss.
The risk of damage to hearing is based on two factors: how loud and for how long. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have to raise your voice to have a normal conversation when about 2m apart for at least part of the day?
- Is the noise intrusive – like a busy street, a vacuum cleaner or a crowded restaurant – for most of the working day?
- Do you use noisy powered tools or machinery for over half an hour a day?
- Do you work in a noisy industry, e.g. construction or demolition; energy; water supply; road repair; woodworking; plastics processing; engineering; textile manufacture; general fabrication; forging, pressing or stamping; paper or board making; canning or bottling; foundries?
- Are there noises because of impacts (e.g. hammering, drop forging, pneumatic impact tools etc), explosive sources such as cartridge-operated tools or detonators, or guns?
- Do you have muffled hearing at the end of the day, even if it is better by the next morning?
If you answered yes to one or more of the questions, then your employees could be at risk.
Did you know that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a noise calculator tool on its website? This tool will help you to calculate your daily and weekly noise exposures and help you to estimate the effectiveness of your hearing protection. Visit the HSE’s website for more information.
Signs of Hearing Loss
- Conversation becomes difficult or impossible
- Your family complains about the television / radio being too loud
- You have trouble using the telephone
- You find it difficult to catch sounds like ‘t’, ‘d’ and ‘s’, so you confuse similar words
- You have permanent tinnitus (ringing, whistling, buzzing or humming in the ears)
Generally, hearing loss is gradual. By the time you notice it, it is probably too late. You can also suffer instant damage from very loud or explosive noises.
- Make sure that you wear hearing protection, use any noise enclosures or other noise controls that have been provided
- Work according to the safe working methods defined, and the findings of your noise risk assessment
- Go for annual hearing checks (sometimes these will have to be provided by your employer)
- Look after your hearing protection, report any concerns
- Ask your employer to review your noise risk assessment and safe working methods if you think they may need updating
For further information, contact your Ellis Whittam Health & Safety Consultant.