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Workplace hearing protection

photo shows a person wearing personal protective equipment, including hearing protectionHearing protection is an important element of workplace safety, particularly for those workers in high-noise environments. Comprehensive hearing protection programs must be implemented in order to protect workers from serious risk of hearing loss, as well as to ensure that workplaces remain productive and safe for all.

First, it is important that employers assess the need for hearing protection. From measuring ambient noise to evaluating the types of equipment and tasks workers are carrying out, evaluation of the actual risk of hearing damage must be done before any decisions can be made regarding appropriate protection. If a risk is discovered, the employer must evaluate any existing protection measures and decide if more is required.

The Health and Safety Executive states that “industrial hearing loss remains the occupational disease with the highest number of civil claims accounting for about 75% of all occupational disease claims”. HSE goes on to give examples of processes which emit high noise levels exceeding the 80dB(A) and 85dB(A) levels at which employers are required to take action under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, including:

  • Glass bottling lines: 85-100dB(A)
  • Product impact on hoppers: 90-100dB(A)
  • Wrapping, cutting wrap, bagging etc: 85-95dB(A)
  • Bowl choppers: > 90db(A)
  • Pneumatic noise and compressed air: 85-95dB(A)
  • Milling operations: 85-100dB(A)
  • Saws/cutting machinery: 85-107dB(A)
  • Blast chillers/freezers: 85-107dB(A)
  • Packaging machinery: 85-95dB(A)

Once a need is determined, it is essential that effective procedures and equipment are implemented accordingly.

Follow the hierarchy of control measures:

  • Obtain noise data from the supplier, before purchase. The noise levels should be relevant to where employees will actually work.
  • Move noisy machinery into areas where there are no workers, or fewer workers.
  • Where noisy machinery has to remain in the working area, enclose it within a sound-insulating enclosure, where possible.
  • Where enclosure is not possible, reduce noise by other engineering means such as acoustic screens, silencers on exhaust systems etc.
  • Limit the duration of exposure to the noise.
  • Where noise levels still exceed 85dB(A), ensure workers wear hearing protection within the designated and clearly marked zones.

When the use of hearing protection (such as earplugs or earmuffs) is necessary, it is important to ensure that these products fit comfortably and block the appropriate levels of sound. This will vary from one worker to the next, and employers must ensure that the process of selecting individualised products is carried out in accordance with best practices.

In addition to providing the proper equipment, employers must also provide necessary training to ensure that workers are aware of the risks associated with their work environment, as well as how to properly use and look after their hearing protection. Well-trained workers are far more likely to properly use and take care of the protection equipment provided, as well as advocate for their own protection or that of their co-workers.

Finally, it is important to create a culture of hearing protection in the workplace. Establishing clear policies and procedures to ensure the protection of all workers, providing periodic follow-up training, creating comfortable environments and highlighting the importance of maintaining hearing aids are just a few of the steps employers can take to make sure hearing protection is a priority.

Workplace hearing protection is vital to maintaining a safe and productive workplace. Employers must take steps to assess potential risks, provide the right protective equipment, educate workers and create a culture of safety and protection. By doing so, they can help ensure that workers are safe and are also aware of the importance of hearing protection.


Author bio

Marcus Butcher is a health and safety adviser with an environmental health background.

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