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Noise in the workplace – Can you hear me?

170,000 people in the UK suffer deafness, ringing in the ears or other ear conditions caused by excessive noise at work. Noise is part of everyday life, but too much noise can cause permanent and disabling hearing damage. This can be hearing loss that gets worse over time, damage caused by sudden, extremely loud noises, or tinnitus (permanent ringing in the ears). With hearing damage, conversation becomes difficult or impossible, your family complains about the television being too loud, you have trouble using the telephone, and you may be unable to sleep.

Hearing damage in the work place can stop people being able to understand speech or any warning signals, keep up with conversations and use the telephone. It can also reduce people’s awareness of their surroundings. These issues present very real hazards, and can ultimately put people at risk of injury or death.

If any of the following apply it is possible that you have a noise problem in your workplace:

  • Noise is intrusive – like a busy street, a vacuum cleaner or a crowded restaurant – or worse, for most of the working day

  • You have to raise your voice to have a normal conversation when about 2m apart, for at least part of the day

  • You use noisy powered tools or machinery for over half an hour a day

  • The type of work is known to have noisy tasks, eg construction, demolition or road repair; woodworking; plastics processing; engineering; textile manufacture; general fabrication; forging or stamping; paper or board making; canning or bottling; foundries; waste and recycling

  • There are noises because of impacts (such as hammering, drop forging, pneumatic impact tools etc), explosive sources such as cartridge-operated tools or detonators, or guns

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 requires employers to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work and requires employers to:

  • Assess the risks to their employees from noise at work

  • Take action to reduce the noise exposure that produces those risks

  • Provide employees with hearing protection if noise exposure cannot be reduced sufficiently by using other methods

  • Make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded

  • Provide employees with information, instruction and training

  • Carry out health surveillance where there is a risk to health

Some of the actions that you may need to look at as an employer are using quieter equipment or a different, quieter process; engineering/technical changes to reduce the noise at source; using screens, barriers, enclosures or absorbent materials; or limiting the time you spend in noisy areas.

If you require any further help with any of the above steps and measures don’t hesitate to contact us here.

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