Tinnitus Week 3-9 February 2020
We live in a world of noise, whether that be though personal headphones, the work equipment we use or that is being used near to us. For these reasons we often overlook the significant harm that noise can cause.
Noise is a recognised workplace hazard, i.e. something that can cause you harm in the workplace.
Noise induced hearing loss is irreversible damage to the ear. Whilst the numbers of new cases of noise induced deafness have continued to show a decline, statistics published by HSE show that 21,000 workers believe that their hearing has been damaged whilst at work.
Some early signs of hearing loss include:
- conversation becomes difficult or impossible
- Your family complains about the television being too loud
- You have trouble using the telephone
Another side-affect is Tinnitus, the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. Tinnitus is not a condition itself, but a symptom of issues, such as noise-related hearing loss.
Around 10% of people in the UK are believed to have mild tinnitus symptoms, whilst for 1% the problem is debilitating.
For that reason, there are laws which govern how loud your workplace can be and what to do to prevent harm occurring.
Firstly, employers must determine whether their work processes create harmful levels of noise.
As a first step you could consider a simple rule of thumb:
- If you can hold a conversation at 2m distance, but the noise is intrusive, it is likely that the noise level is around 80dB
- If you need to raise your voice to hold a conversation at 2m, the noise is around 85dB, and
- If you need to raise your voice to be heard at 1m, the noise is definitely above 90dB.
These numbers are important, because they the higher they are, the greater the risk and the more an employer has to do to prevent harm occurring.
Some examples of noisy equipment include power presses (85-87dB), angle grinders, chopsaws, and sheet metal work (98-103dB). Welding operations can generate noise n order of 90dB, but due to the proximity of another workstation this can double to 93dB quite easily. Background noise in a machine shop are typically around 85dB, but with the radio turned up so that everyone can hear that may increase significantly.
As an employer, who carries out work liable to expose workers to noise at or above the first level (80dB) you must undertake a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, identifying what needs to be done to eliminate or reduce the risk. This will include:
- An observation of specific working practices,
- Reference to relevant information on the probable levels of noise corresponding to any equipment used in the particular working conditions, and
- If necessary, measurement of the level of noise to which employees are likely to be exposed
As an employer, you may feel that you don’t have the skills, training and experience to undertake such an assessment. At THSP our Institute of Acoustics trained consultants can assist you in the process. Beyond that we can provide practical advice on how to minimise the risk of harm, above and beyond the use of PPE, which must always be considered the last resort.
It should be remembered that HSE give the same priority to health issues as they do to safety, and as an employer you are expected to do the same.
Download our free Avoid hearing loss poster here 03456 122144