High levels of noise can cause damage to hearing, because the noise affects the workings of the inner ear and caused high frequency loss. This is called noise induced hearing loss.
Noise induced hearing loss makes conversations much more difficult, friends and family will complain that you have the TV too loud, using the phone is more difficult and sleep can be affected if you have tinnitus as well.
Employers have clear legal duties that they must comply with in order to reduce the noise at work and reduce the risk of a worker becoming hard of hearing.
There are many ways that employers can reduce noise. Among their duties, employers should:
- Make relevant engineering or technical changes to reduce the noise at source
- Use screens, barriers or absorbent materials
- Use quieter processes or equipment
- Set the workplace up so that the workstations are quieter
- Reduce the amount of time spent in noise areas
Duties of employees to help avoid industrial hearing loss
The primary responsibility to keep the workplace safe is borne by the employer. However, we all have to take care for our own safety too and there are a number of ways that employees can help to protect their hearing.
Report any problems with noise control
If there are any issues with noise control measures not working or if the hearing protections is damaged, not maintained of functioning incorrectly, you should let your employer and your health and safety representative know straight away.
Look after your hearing protection
Your employer must provide you with hearing protection when the noise risk assessments identify noise louder than 80dB. They must train employees how to look after the equipment and where to get it from. When ear plugs or ear muffs become damaged they are less effective, so it is important that each person does what they can to look after the hearing protection and reduce the risk of noise induced hearing loss.
Wear your hearing protection
As mentioned above, hearing protection must be provided when the risk of noise greater than 80dB exists. In these cases, the employer must provide appropriate hearing protection to reduce the risk of becoming hard of hearing as a result.
As well as providing the equipment, they must provide training on how to use it properly. The employee must make sure that they follow these instructions and always wear their hearing equipment when they are in a noisy part of the workplace (it should be clearly signed to let you know). Taking the hearing protection off, even for a very short while, can significantly damage your hearing in loud areas.
It is important to note that the use of hearing protection is simply the last line in defence against noise damage. Employers should be looking at other steps to reduce noise levels before using hearing protection.
However, the following are the most common types of hearing protection.
Earplugs – These should go right into the ear canal, not just across it. You should ask for help if you are having trouble fitting them comfortably. Earplugs should be fitted after you have cleaned your hands and you should never share them with anyone else. Some earplugs are one use only and others can be worn more often. Check the packaging so that you know which you are using and seek advice if you are unsure
Earmuffs – They should totally cover your ears. They need to fit tightly and there should be no gaps around the edges, because otherwise noise can filter in. Hats jewellery, hats and glasses should be pulled out of the way so that they do not interfere with the seal. You should keep the inside of your earmuffs clean and make sure that the seal is clean too. It should not allow any noise in if possible.
Semi inserts / canal caps – These are held across the ear by a band, usually made from a plastic material. You can follow the same advice as for earplugs, but always remember to make sure that there is a good seal every time you put them on and that the band keeps its tension. This will reduce over time, so you need to make sure that you ask for a replacement in good time.
Attend for your hearing checks
The employers should arrange for regular monitoring and health surveillance for workers who are at risk of noise induced hearing loss, because of potential exposure to loud noise in the workplace. These tests are painless and quick and every employee should make sure that they attend when invited to do so. The tests are useful, because they can detect reductions in hearing before they becoming disabling and allow action to be taken in good time.
Employees should help their employers create a noise free environment by following the advice they are given – for example, use hearing protection when provided, avoid hearing protection zones without hearing protection and always report any issues with equipment or problems which make the workplace noisier.