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Don't let workplace noise become the silent victim of Covid-19

17 November 2020

THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic has presented unique challenges to businesses in every sector. Cirrus Research discuss the fact that occupational noise seems to have fallen off the health and safety agenda, and explains why it mustn't be forgotten about.

The Coronavirus pandemic has changed almost everything about the way we live, learn and work. Businesses, regardless of their industry, have had to introduce new practices, such as social distancing measures and regular temperature checks, to ensure they can continue to operate safely. With so much focus on preventing the spread of Covid-19 at work, have other occupational health and safety risks fallen by the wayside?

Noise no longer a priority?

Although Covid-19 has presented new occupational health and safety challenges for everyone, the ones that existed before the pandemic have not gone away. Noise is still a huge risk in the workplace and with many businesses changing their operational hours, headcount, and output, it is likely that their noise control and reduction programmes are out of date.

Cirrus Research remained operational throughout the initial UK lockdown so that we could continue to support our clients. But many of the conversations we had during this period were the same: “noise just isn’t a priority for us at the moment”. It wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but we were concerned. We've been in the business of safeguarding hearing health for more than 50 years, so the potential for an uplift in cases of noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis and other noise-related health issues is cause for worry. We also didn't want any of our clients to fall foul of HSE regulations. We contacted the Health & Safety Executive to clarify the position on measuring and controlling noise in the workplace, and this is what they told us:

"The duty to manage the risks from any work activity, including noise at work, for those businesses that continue to operate during the pandemic, remains.

Duty-holders still have a legal responsibility to maintain work equipment and carry out thorough examinations, written schemes and Statutory Inspections. These legal duties exist to help manage the significant hazard that the failure of such equipment can pose. Not complying with these duties can significantly increase the risk of harm to workers and members of the public. At the current time, HSE is not considering issuing exemptions or relaxation of these requirements, but this position will be kept under review in recognition of the changing situation in relation to Covid19."

It's crucial to remember that the regulations controlling occupational noise have not changed: every business has a responsibility to protect their staff from the dangers of occupational noise. 

Why controlling occupational noise is so important

The most recent data available from HSE shows that roughly 21,000 people in the UK suffer from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). That doesn’t necessarily include those suffering from hearing conditions such as tinnitus, hyperacusis and acoustic shock syndrome. It also doesn't include other serious health conditions associated with exposure to excessive noise levels.

Recent findings show that sufferers of a form of hearing loss are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure and stroke. There is also an established link between hearing health and mental health, with research suggesting that people living with hearing loss are more at risk of developing conditions such as depression and anxiety. Perhaps most surprising is the preliminary research that suggest that there is an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease associated with hearing loss.

The consequences of hearing loss go far beyond far beyond physical and mental health; there are also social impacts of exposure to excessive noise levels. Research conducted by Hearing Link (hearinglink.org) from April 2020, showed that 89% of those surveyed with some form of hearing loss cited social and personal problems as being a fundamental impact of having the condition. 58% of respondents said their relationships had suffered; 39% had issues conversing with others; 30% had difficulty watching the television, and 35% found it hard to be out with friends in public places.

The risks of exposure to excessive noise cannot be understated and downplayed. Work-related hearing loss is fully avoidable. And although businesses are, rightly, focussed on ensuring their workplaces are Covid-secure, it's so incredibly important not to let occupational noise become the silent victim of the pandemic.

How Cirrus Research can help

Reducing and controlling noise levels in the workplace should always be the primary focus of any organisation with PPE, such as earplugs and ear defenders, used as a last resort. Understanding the noisescape of your business using reputable and reliable acoustic measurement equipment that meets industry standards is essential if you are going to tackle occupational noise head-on. With more than 50 years’ experience in the acoustic measurement industry, Cirrus Research paves the way in pioneering technology, making it easier and more accessible to understand your organisation’s noisescape, allowing you to make more effective decisions to ensure your people are properly protected against the risks that noise presents.

Protecting people from excessive noise isn't as simple as selecting the cheapest pair of ear defenders or the colour of earplugs that match your branding. Knowing the decibel level of noise is only part of the story; different types of noise require different sorts of protection. To understand occupational noise in more detail, it is always best practice to use a sound level meter or noise dosimeter that features octave band analysis. Octave band data provides a much more detailed insight into the noise levels people are exposed. This data can be imported into our licence-free noise analysis software, NoiseTools, which will provide an accurate list of the most appropriate hearing protection based on specific types of noise. It's essential to avoid overprotection and under-protection, which are as dangerous as providing no hearing protection at all.

Hundreds of businesses across the world trust Cirrus Research to provide them with the equipment they need to protect their people, and all of them benefit from the Cirrus advantage:

  • An industry-leading 15-year warranty applied to every instrument we manufacture and supply

  • Licence-free data download, analysis and reporting software included as standard

  • A UKAS-accredited acoustic calibration laboratory to ensure instruments are tested to strictest standards (lab no. 10148)

  • 50 years’ experience at the forefront of the industry

  • An in-house technical support team with extensive product and acoustic knowledge

  • Instruments developed and supported by our in-house product research and engineering team

  • Flexible rental options and fully bespoke solutions available

For more information visit, www.cirrusresearch.co.uk