Hearing conservation and Noise at Work
Workplace noise is regulated under the Control of Noise at Work Regulation (2005). There are a few core themes, which are not too mind-stretching in themselves.
The central themes of Control of Noise at Work Regulations are to:
Understand noise and the damage it can cause
Reduce noise where possible
Consider the noise risks and individuals at risk
Provide hearing tests as part of hearing surveillance
Supply hearing protection for workers at risk
Deliver appropriate training
Understanding Noise and Noise Damage
Noise damage is cumulative, permanent and can lead to nasty complaints like tinnitus. The sort of condition you would wish you didn’t have and that you had been sensible enough to avoid when you had the chance.
And hearing problems and noise itself can make working more dangerous – simply by the fact that workers may not hear warnings, for instance.
What is “Noise”
Employers need to get serious about noise. Although 85dB is the level at which employers need to get busy, Most of us don’t talk “dB” as a rule and this is not always easy to measure for every worker. So:
Consider a professional noise assessment to understand noise levels.
If you think it’s loud, it probably is –
if people ever ask (or you provide) hearing protection, then it’s noisy.
If staff have to raise their voices to communicate; they operate power machinery (even vacuum cleaners or catering equipment) or are immersed in a sustained level of sound for a period of time, then you’re going to have some thinking to do and take action. If you don't take action, you'd better have a very good reason and - most likely - evidence.
And of course, if sudden, extreme noises are likely – like air rivets, shooting and so on – then this is definitely NOISE.
Noisy is the opposite of quiet – perhaps the simplest test is asking yourself if your workplace is anything other than quiet? It would be just as well to find out: how noisy is it and what action needs to be taken?
Even if you think it isn’t loud – it is generally good practice (and more productive) if you work to reduce noise levels.
Consider the noise risks for workers
The legal position is that employers have duties to protect, to train and educate and to monitor workers who are exposed to noise. The implication is that you should understand noise levels at work and build this into a risk assessment.
A risk assessment is central to noise protection at work. Once the risk is understood, action can be taken. Exposure to noise should form part of your risk assessments, both for the individual, the work environment and the task concerned.
There are lots of risk assessment tools and services available. The HSE also gives some guidance for noise risks.
Hearing surveillance is a key part of the Noise at Work jigsaw.
Surveillance is very important because it is the early warning system for hearing damage and also provides auditable evidence that employers are taking noise seriously for workers at risk.
The major part of surveillance is hearing screening. WorkScreen provides hearing screening for surveillance (it’s why we have written this page), complete with reports all with the minimum of fuss.
Screening must be provided to anyone at risk from noise (see risk assessments). The guidelines for how often to conduct hearing screening are not straightforward to implement, so our graphic shows what appears to be the gold standard.
Note that some workers may require hearing screening even more frequently if they are particularly at risk for any reason.
Provide hearing protection
If you can’t reduce or avoid harmful noise then hearing protection must be provided. And using it must be enforced. Whatever form of hearing protection you use, It MUST be CE approved.
However, the story does not end there: hearing protection only works if it is worn and worn properly, so workers need a dose of regular training (plus relevant signs and documents) to remind them of the dangers from excessive noise; when to wear protection and how to use it correctly.
Hearing protection is not rocket science, but it is important.
The HSE provides more information on hearing screening at work (alas the HSE cannot mention WorkScreen as a solution to hearing surveillance.....) in their leaflet: Noise at Work: A Brief Guide to Controlling the Risks. Or contact us.