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Keeping hearing protection on track

23 January 2013

A noise check undertaken as part of a hearing conservation programme at a leading manufacturer of rail infrastructure products has been so successful that it is set to be rolled out across several of the company's location

A noise check undertaken as part of a hearing conservation programme at a leading manufacturer of rail infrastructure products has been so successful that it is set to be rolled out across several of the company's locations

Balfour Beatty Rail's facility at Sandiacre, between Derby and Nottingham, employs more than 200 staff in the manufacture of steel rail switches and crossings for both UK and European markets.

The manufacturing process involves a number of activities including milling, welding and forging, all generating different volumes and frequencies of noise - reaching more than 100 dB(A) in some instances - with the potential for occupational health and safety risks for employees if adequate protection is not available.

Some of the manufacturing processes also call for the provision of hard hats, eye protection and respiratory protection.

The company was sourcing its personal protective equipment (PPE) from a number of suppliers including the diversified technology company, 3M but was keen to rationalise its supplier base as far as possible, not least to ensure the different types of PPE worn by staff offered optimum compatibility.

As part of the discussions on how to best meet Balfour Beatty Rail's needs, 3M offered to undertake a noise check of all areas of the facility and proposed a hearing conservation programme covering all shop floor staff with training on usage and maintenance of their PPE.

The noise checks involved 3M experts using specialist equipment to measure noise volume and frequency at nearly 30 separate locations within the facility, where activities such as tool grinding, engraving, sanding and drilling were taking place.

Range of activities covered The results very much reflected this range of activity - the rail turning shop, for example, generated volumes of up to 98db(A) at low frequencies, while one of the grinding sections reached 103db(A) at high frequencies. (The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 gives guidance that the level at which employers must provide protection and hearing protection is 85dB(A) (daily or weekly average exposure) and also an exposure limit value of 87dB(A), taking account of any reductions in exposure provided by hearing protection, above which workers must not be exposed).

Using the results of this research and following consultations with individual staff, 3M suggested different hearing protection products from its extensive range which would be suitable for the staff working in each location. Each of these would reduce noise levels to acceptable levels, with an option for ear plugs or muffs depending on individual preference.

As part of the programme a tailored presentation was also given to staff covering the need for PPE, correct storage, cleaning and maintenance, and donning and doffing, to help maximise compliance.

Through this scheme, 3M says that it has forged a close partnership with Balfour Beatty Rail's health and safety team, and is now supplying a range of PPE including safety spectacles and goggles, disposable dust masks, welding shields and air-fed respirators as well as hearing protection products.

Richard Beardsley of 3M's Occupational Health and Environmental Safety Division explained: "The range of work undertaken at Sandiacre means that noise volume and frequency can vary considerably between locations, meaning that the PPE requirements in each location differ. We were able to suggest products suitable for every individual onsite to ensure they are not exposed to excessive noise levels.

"Balfour Beatty Rail is a company which takes its responsibility to employee safety very seriously and we are delighted to have the opportunity to work so closely with them." Rodgena Froggatt, works administrator and management safety representative for Balfour Beatty Rail, added: "The noise checks undertaken were extremely thorough and have resulted in an allencompassing programme meaning that not only are our employees adequately protected against noise but that they also understand the key issues surrounding the use and maintenance of hearing protection products.

"We are so pleased with the noise check and hearing conservation programme delivered by 3M that we are considering rolling this out to other sites at Sheffield, Doncaster and Darlington." See 3M at Health & Safety '10 North, Stand 76