Employers have a responsibility by law to protect the hearing of their employees by eliminating or reducing risks from exposure to noise.
The complexity of the actions required will depend on the level of risk, but the steps you should take to protect your employees are very similar – keep reading to learn more!
1. Determine whether you have a noise problem in your workplace
If any of the below statements apply to the noise in your workplace, you likely have a noise issue:
- It is intrusive for most of the working day e.g. a consistently busy road, crowded environment etc.
- It is created by impacts (e.g. pneumatic impact tools, hammering etc.), or explosive sources
- Employees use noisy machinery or powered tools for over half an hour per day
- It is common in your industry e.g. construction, foundries, engineering etc.
- It causes your employees to have to raise their voices to have a normal conversation when about 2 m apart for at least part of the day
2. Assess the risks
Once you’ve identified that noise is a problem in your workplace, you should assess the risks to determine if further action is needed and what controls you will need to implement.
Your risk assessment should cover:
- Where the risk may come from and who is likely to be affected
- An estimate of employee exposure
- Actions required to ensure you are compliant with the law, such as providing hearing protection
- The identification of any employees who need to be provided with health surveillance
When estimating employee exposure, you should take into account:
- Work they do, or are likely to do, as part of their role
- The way work is carried out
- Variability from one day to the next
3. Provide health surveillance
If your risk assessment has shown that health surveillance is required, you must provide it for all your employees who are at risk of hearing damage.
In the context of hearing damage, heath surveillance would usually include conducting and sharing the results of regular hearing checks with the employee, the keeping of health records, and ensuring a doctor examines employees when hearing damage is identified.
4. Reduce noise if possible
The best way protect workers from the risk of noise exposure, is to eliminate or reduce the noise. Ways this could potentially be achieved include:
- Changing to a quieter process
- Using quieter equipment
- Implementing engineering controls, such as fitting silencers or reducing drop heights
- Change the trajectory of the noise through the use of enclosures, barriers and screens, or by moving sources of noise away from workers
- Change the layout of the workplace
- Limit the amount of time spent in noisy areas
5. Provide hearing protection if necessary
Hearing protection should be introduced either while you are waiting on other noise control methods to be implemented, or as extra protection on top of noise control. It should not be your only control against hearing loss risks.
By law, you must provide hearing protectors if noise exposure is between the lower and upper exposure action values, and ensure that they are used properly.
6. Choose appropriate hearing protection
Hearing protection should be suitable for the work environment, compatible with other PPE (such as hard hats or eye protection), and provide enough protection – the target should be to get noise levels below 85 dB at the ear at least.
7. Maintain hearing protection properly
Again, this is a requirement by law. Hearing PPE must be kept clean, undamaged, and unmodified.
8. Provide training for your employees
Users must be instructed on correct fitting and use of hearing protection, including:
- Why, when and where the hearing protection must be used
- How to fit the PPE, and how to wear it in conjunction with other equipment
- Avoiding potential interference from other clothing or accessories
- Storing the equipment correctly
- Caring for and checking the equipment
- Reporting damage and acquiring replacements
9. Carry out checks
After your employees have received their hearing protection training, it’s important that you ensure they continue to use it properly. Spot checks are a great way to make sure that rules are being followed – you might also consider including the requirement to wear hearing protection in your safety policy.
10. Consult employees
It is important that employees understand the risks they may be exposed to. Where they are exposed above the lower exposure action values you should at least tell them:
- The likely noise exposure and the risks of this
- How you are controlling risks and exposures
- Where and how to obtain hearing protection
- How to report defective hearing protection and noise-control equipment
- What their duties are under the Noise Regulations 2005
- How they can do their part to minimise risks
- Your health surveillance systems
Hand Arm Vibration and Noise at Work training courses are essential tools in protecting your workers from occupational hazards. Make sure you don’t miss out on our 10% off deal on these courses, available until the end of February. Simply enter the code ‘occupational10’ at checkout to save!
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