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Prioritising Hearing Protection in the Workplace

hearing protection
hearing protection, workplace safety, ppe

The importance of workplace safety cannot be emphasised enough. While numerous safety protocols primarily address visible hazards, one frequently underestimated one is excessive noise and hearing protection. Our ears, capable of distinguishing frequencies, tones, and pinpointing the direction of a sound, play a crucial role in our daily lives, so protecting them in the workplace is vital.

Prolonged exposure to high levels of noise in the workplace can lead to irreversible hearing damage, resulting in conditions such as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) or tinnitus, which can be irresistible and significantly impact our lives.

Hearing the alarming statistics: 95 new cases of occupational deafness in 2019 reported through IIDB, and an estimated 17,000 UK workers facing work-related hearing issues from 2017/18 to 2019/20.

The risk of harmful noise persists across all industries. It’s time to take action and control noise exposure effectively to prevent life-changing hearing problems in the future.

The Impact of High-Level Noise

Exposure to high-level noise can harm the delicate Corti, located in the cochlea within the inner ear. This damage can be temporary, such as ringing in the ears after a loud event, or can lead to conditions like temporary threshold shift. However, repeated exposure to harmful noise can cause permanent damage, with extremely high noise having the potential to cause immediate and irreversible harm. 

Understanding Decibel Levels

The loudness of noise is measured in decibels (dB), considering how long someone is exposed to it. Decibels follow a logarithmic scale, meaning the addition or subtraction isn’t straightforward. The potential harm from noise is shown by exposure action values and limits. In the UK, there’s a daily exposure limit of 87 dB and a peak limit of 140 dB. Action thresholds are set at lower and upper levels, prompting the need for employee protection through information, training, and hearing protection

Assessing and Controlling Noise Levels 

Conducting a noise risk assessment is essential to determine exposure levels and implement necessary controls. Effective noise control begins in the planning stages, focusing on material, equipment, and process selection to reduce noise at the source. The hierarchy of control encourages the elimination or avoidance of noisy tasks when possible. When personal hearing protection is needed, selecting certified, quality products following EN 352 standards is crucial. 

Overprotection and Compatibility

While protection is vital, overprotection is a risk, as certain sounds are essential for safe working conditions. Selecting compatible hearing protectors that create a tight seal and ensuring correct fitting is imperative. Ear defenders, both mounted and unmounted, must be tested and certified for compatibility with other PPE items. 

Communication in Noisy Environments

Noise can hinder team communication, potentially leading to errors and isolation. Administrative controls, such as designated communication areas, or electronic hearing protectors with level-dependent attenuation and active noise reduction, can facilitate clear communication while maintaining protection. 

Conclusion 

Preserving hearing health in the workplace requires a multifaceted approach. From eliminating noise hazards during planning to implementing effective controls and ensuring the compatibility of hearing protection, every step contributes to a safer and more productive environment. By understanding the risks, adhering to exposure limits, and selecting appropriate hearing protection, we can mitigate the potential for life altering hearing problems and foster a culture of safety in the workplace. 

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