Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common preventable occupational health hazard.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 places a duty on employers to ensure that workers’ hearing is protected from excessive noise at their workplace, which could cause them to lose their hearing and/or to suffer from tinnitus (permanent ringing in the ears).
The Role of Hearing Protection
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 states that noise should always be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable, irrespective of the legal thresholds at which certain action should be taken, or whether or not hearing protection is used.
Companies should begin by implementing a hearing conservation programme, as this will form the foundations of any future noise-reduction efforts. This is a process that involves three main parts, all of which must be effectively implemented for the system to work:
It is important to remember that there will only ever be a small number of people in any organisation who are truly at risk of suffering noise-induced hearing loss. Such people may simply be more susceptible to hearing damage. Alternatively, they might not wear hearing protection properly, or they might just be exposed to noise more than anyone realised.
Finding out who among their workforce are at heightened risk will require employers to carry out health surveillance for noise-induced hearing loss, which really amounts to one thing – hearing tests. Questionnaires and interviews will form part of a comprehensive testing programme, together with audiometry. As well as a person who is competent to conduct the audiometry tests, companies will also need a system for dealing with any results that highlight a potential problem.
Noise at Work Risk Assessment
Assessing the risk of injury to an employee from noise means working out how much noise they are being exposed to – it is as simple as that! The Control of Noise at Work Regulations state the levels of exposure that are known to cause problems but, if there are potential health risks at levels below these thresholds, it is even more important to know what levels workers are exposed to in practice, so that any reductions can be quantified in consideration of all the risks posed by the noise.
Controlling noise is a specialist field of work. Having said that, there are some actions that safety practitioners can adopt, which can yield significant results, and others that should be treated with caution:
Absorption –Absorption has a part to play in a control programme but should only be used on the advice of a noise-control expert.
Enclosures – A lot of focus is often put on enclosing machinery to reduce the noise. This can be a very expensive operation and can result in other problems linked to ventilation, ease of access, and ongoing maintenance. For some machinery, enclosures may be the only solution but, once again, these should be specified and installed under professional guidance.
Air Noise – This is an area where major noise-reduction improvements can be made for minimal input. Employers should ensure, among similar actions, that leaks are controlled, low-noise nozzles on blowing lines are being used, and exhaust filters are all working properly. However, it is important that these measures are maintained to ensure their effectiveness.
Engineering and Maintenance – Well-maintained machinery makes less noise, so reducing the inherent noise a machine or process emits will require an engineering approach. Very often, there is a lot that can be done by someone who knows what they are looking for, and this can often be enough to avoid the use of enclosures and absorption methods.
If you have concerns about noise levels within your workplace and would like to obtain a quote for a specialist Noise Assessment Survey, please contact Lyn on 07970 537108, or at firstname.lastname@example.org