"Occupational hearing loss is preventable" says BSIF
05 October 2015
The increasing awareness of the importance of preventing occupational hearing loss is clear with 49 exhibitors at A+A this year showing a total of 98 hearing protection products.
From earplugs to active ear muffs, there is a form of protection for every environment. But employers shouldn’t be misled by the common misconception that the highest level of protection will provide the most effective and safest solution. Ahead of A+A 2015, Alan Murray, CEO for the British Safety Industry Federation, says that occupational hearing loss is preventable not only because of hearing protection products but also by employers and employees taking the right precautions.
For those who are exposed to high levels of noise at work, the BSIF’s Listen Today, Hear Tomorrow campaign, in partnership with the HSE, BOHS and IOSH to name but a few, aims to provide clear guidelines on how employers can protect their employees against this common yet preventable hazard.
Alan Murray said: "Listen Today, Hear Tomorrow not only highlights the hazards of noise levels and the permanent damage that can be caused, but also provides solutions for employers, starting with elimination controls and ending with hearing protection.”
The first step should always be to ensure that the workplace environment is tested for dangerous noise levels, ideally with the help of a professional to get reliable results, but workers can ask themselves some simple questions to determine if their hearing is at risk during work:
- Do I have to shout to talk to someone when they are about 6 feet away?
- Do I ‘feel’ the noise or do I tense up when the noise starts?
- Do I relax, or feel relief, when the noise stops or I walk away?
- Can I only ‘hear’ someone when they are looking at me but can’t when they look away?
If their answers to any of these questions suggest that the noise levels are cause for concern, they need to take action and seek advice. They can also check guidance on the HSE website www.hse.gov.uk/noise and arrange for a workplace noise assessment from a qualified person.
Before resorting to hearing protection, you should refer to the hierarchy of control to guide you through the process:
- Eliminate the noise – can the noisy process be replaced completely?
- If not, substitute the noise – can the process be undertaken in a quieter way?
- If not, can you dampen vibrating panels, fit silencers to exhausts, acoustically screen or enclose noisy components, reduce impacts, provide noise havens at work stations? Can the noisy activity be moved to an area where other workers will not be exposed to the noise?
- If not, implement administrative controls - make it your policy to buy or hire low noise equipment. Ensure maintenance gives suitable priority to noise. Ensure your training, health surveillance, etc, are fit for purpose. Plan your workplace to limit the number of people on noisy activities and keep people on quiet work in quiet places.
- If not, provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for all employees who are exposed to hazardous noise levels.
Where all other noise controls are not possible or while you are waiting for the implementation of noise controls, hearing protection is a quick and effective way to prevent short term discomfort and long term, permanent hearing damage.
As Alan Murray explains though, hearing protection should be a last resort: "We at the BSIF are keen to press the point that hearing protection does not block out all noise, it reduces it to below hazardous levels. Of course, where possible this should not be considered a permanent solution.”
Almost 10 million people in the UK today have some degree of hearing loss. That figure is expected to rise to around 14.5million by 2031, so it’s important for employers to act now.
Such a preventable hazard is easily controlled and taking precautions could ensure a safer and more comfortable working environment for employees across all industries at risk of noise induced deafness.
The information leaflet and a workplace poster can be downloaded at www.bsif.co.uk/listen-today-hear-tomorrow