72 NOISE MONITORING & PROTECTION www.ipesearch.com
Seven tips to ensure workers’
hearing is protected
Exposure to elevated levels of noise at work can lead to irreversible hearing damage. David
Ford highlights seven areas to watch in order to prevent work-related hearing loss
FOR THOSE affected, work-related
hearing loss can be disabling,
concentration, causing stress and
anxiety, which, in turn, can contribute to
other health issues, such as high blood
Thankfully, there are many ways to
reduce noise and noise exposure in the
workplace and, most often, a
combination of methods works best.
1. Noise assessment
According to the Control of Noise at
Work Regulations 2005 (Noise
Regulations), the level at which
employers must assess the risk to
workers’ health and provide them with
information and training is 80 decibels
(dB). This is considered the lower noise
exposure action level. The upper action
level is set at 85 dB, meaning practical
measures must be attempted to reduce
noise levels via engineering controls or
other technical methods, and hearing
protection becomes mandatory if the
noise cannot be controlled by these
means. No worker can be exposed to
an exposure limit value of 87 dB
(factoring in hearing protection).
Noise assessments should be
undertaken by somebody who
understands the regulations and is
competent in identifying where the risks
are and who they are likely to affect.
Findings should be compared against
the Noise Regulations exposure action
levels. It is important to record results
and put together an action plan,
outlining what measures can be taken
to comply with the law. Regular review
of risk assessments is also necessary
and the HSE recommends they are
looked at whenever workplace changes
are made and, preferably, no less than
every two years.
2. Eliminating the noise at source
Eliminating noise at source should
always be the first measure for reducing
damaging noise, with the simplest
example being to remove the noisy
process or machinery altogether.
However, this won’t be appropriate for
every situation or workplace.
Noise risk management becomes far
simpler if the number of employees
exposed to dangerous noise levels is
limited. Planning where the noisy
operations take place and segregating
them from other work activities is an
obvious solution. Walls, screens, barriers
and distance can reduce noise exposure
considerably, while duration of exposure
can be reduced by rotating shift patterns
or by providing a noise refuge.
Substituting noisy machinery for quieter
options is another possibility.
Whenever new equipment or work
processes are introduced, the impact of
noise should be a consideration.
Implementing a positive noise-reducing
purchasing policy avoids the need to
apply retrofit noise-control solutions.
The Supply of Machinery (Safety)
Regulations 2008 stipulate suppliers are
under obligation to make their products
generate as little noise as possible.
Therefore, ahead of acquiring new
machinery, it is prudent to liaise with the
manufacturer to review installation
instructions, maintenance arrangements
and understand the likely noise levels
under the specific conditions in which
the machinery will be operated. Where it
is necessary to buy noisy machines,
keep a record of the reasons why that
decision was taken, as it will help
influence what improvements need to
be made in the future. The HSE Buy
Quiet guide for buying quieter
equipment provides further advice.
4. Personal protective equipment
Hearing protection is useful, but, as with
all PPE, it should be the last line of
defence. The aim is to eliminate or
reduce to the extent possible the risk to
hearing by all other means first. The
reason being that hearing protection
can offer its own set of risks – ‘over
protection’ reduces the ability for
employees to communicate effectively
with each other, be alert to impending
hazards or hear warning signals.
By law, employers are required to
provide hearing protection to employees
if they ask for it and if the noise exposure
exceeds the upper noise action levels.
With that comes the necessary
requirements to ensure all PPE is well-maintained,
staff are trained on how and
when to use it and the right protection
has been selected. A targeted, rather
than blanket, approach is advised, as it
means hearing protection is only worn
when necessary. The alternative can lead
to isolation in workers or a reluctance to
use hearing protection altogether.
where the risks