Millions of people work in noisy environments everyday and run the risk of developing industrial hearing loss. Noise doesn’t have to be as loud as you would think to potentially cause you permanent deafness. Sounds of 85dB and above have the capability, with this level being comparable to vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers. Many people work with elements that are much louder than this.
If your workplace reaches these dangerous levels, you should be protected from them. By law your employer has to defend you against noise or they would be liable for hearing loss claims against them. There are various ways to do this but the first and most important action should be to reduce any noise at its source. This can be done by replacing machinery, sound proofing, enclosing machinery, lubrication or changes in production.
In the short term, personal protection can be provided. This usually comes in the form of either earplugs or muffs. Each have their own qualities;
- Ear plugs are small, light and more comfortable. Due to this they are usually the choice to use for longer periods of time. They don’t offer the best protection though.
- Ear Muffs provide a higher level of protection but can be large and uncomfortable. Being more hygienic to share allows them to be left in loud noise areas.
Just being provided with protection isn’t enough. An employer still has the responsibility to ensure that it is fit for purpose. This obligation includes checking the fit, whether the employer can still communicate and perform their job proficiently with the protection plus making it compulsory. An employee can still claim hearing loss compensation if they are made deaf by work if they weren’t made to wear their protection.
If you are not provided with these precautions and work in a noisy environment you are at a high risk of developing hearing loss. You need to raise this with your employee. It is in everyone’s interest to protect you as you don’t want to damage your hearing and your employer doesn’t want to be sued. A risk assessment should be performed to assess the best cause of action to control any noise in the workplace. The information attained should then be used to ensure you are not put at any risk of hearing loss.
Although the volume of the noise you are exposed to has a big impact on the risk of hearing loss, the length of exposure is also a factor. I mentioned above that noises over 85dB has the potential to cause hearing loss. The louder a noise, the shorter the period needed to result in hearing loss. An eight hour period of noises at 85dB can cause hearing loss. With every 5dB increase, the time needed to develop hearing loss halves.
- 85dB takes 8 hours
- 90dB takes 4 hours (hair-dryer)
- 120dB takes 7.5 minutes (jet engine)
Due to this, regular breaks from noisy environments are as important as protection. Moving away from these dangerous sounds could be the difference between developing hearing loss or not. This is something that both you and your employer has a responsibility to do.
If you are working in an environment that you have to raise your voice to be heard, it is loud enough to cause damage to your hearing. If there are no precautions in place you are risking your hearing and should take action.