It’s estimated there are 20,000 new cases of work-related noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) diagnosed in the UK each year, despite it being the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable. Lee Wright explains.
Figures from the Health & Safety Executive reveal that it’s mainly men that suffer from NIHL and its possible the problem could be caused by people failing to understand what type of hearing protection should be used in different environments.
Although the statistics show that people suffering with NIHL mainly work in the manufacturing, construction, extraction, energy and water supply industries, it can affect people in almost any sector.
NIHL can be caused by a one-off burst of sound, such as an explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud noise over an extended period of time. Once the damage is done, NIHL is irreversible and in extreme cases it can result in complete hearing loss. For this reason employers are required to protect employees from excessive noise levels as part of The Noise at Work Regulations and any areas in a workplace that are prone to excessive noise levels should be closely monitored.
If daily noise levels average more than 80dB (decibels) action must be taken. Before resorting to ear protection employers should explore whether it’s possible to reduce noise levels, perhaps by using soundproofing equipment or modifying machinery to make it quieter.
When average noise levels reach 85dB employers are required to provide ear protectors and display signs warning people that they are entering an ‘ear protection zone’. When buying ear protection, defenders and plugs are the most common options and most come with an SNR figure that gives an indication of how many dBs the product will block out.
Ideally you should aim for a product that reduces noise to between 70 and 80dB because completely blocking it out can leave employees feeling isolated as well as creating a new set of dangers. In some instances certain noise frequencies may also require specific levels of protection. Finally it’s also important to remember that one style or size doesn’t always work for everyone so employers may need to offer a range of products depending on individual requirements.
Lee Wright is marketing director for equipment supplier Slingsby