Every day we are exposed to noise in the environment (e.g. traffic, radio, television) and, in most instances, this noise is at a safe level and does not affect our hearing. However, working regularly or for prolonged periods in an environment that is excessively noisy can cause damage to the sensitive structures in the ear, which can lead to noise-induced hearing loss and other conditions affecting the ear (e.g. tinnitus). Approximately 17,000 people in the UK suffer with deafness or other ear conditions related to noise.
Noise levels may pose a potential risk where employees are exposed to high levels of impact noise on a daily basis or where noisy equipment or machinery is used. However, hearing loss is easily preventable either by reducing the noise level or, if this is not possible, providing hearing protection.
Employees should be considered at risk of noise-induced hearing loss when exposed to noise levels as described below, so compliance with the advice is essential. Although special equipment is required to measure noise, it is important to ask for noise levels to be checked if you feel that the noise may be too loud or if you and someone else have to raise your voices to hear normal conversations when standing within two metres of each other:
Employees should comply with the requirement to wear hearing protection (ensuring that it is cared for and maintained as instructed) and should attend any hearing assessments.
Employees who are experiencing difficulties with their hearing should inform their manager and their health and safety representative at the earliest opportunity.
What are employers' responsibilities?
Hearing loss is easily preventable. Under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, employers are required to determine whether employees are exposed to levels of noise at work that could be considered harmful to health. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website provides comprehensive tools and advice to assist managers.
Where noise at work is an issue, employers are required to:
The HSE website provides a range of information on how to prevent exposure to noise at work.
The TUC also has a number of resources on its website. You should also contact your union or health and safety representative for advice if you have any issues relating to noise at work.
The Health for Work Adviceline can offer guidance to employers, health and safety representatives and employees on health surveillance, which should be undertaken in organisations where employees are likely to be exposed to noise in excess of the second action level. Guidance can also be given on how noise at work can affect employees as well as information about sourcing an occupational health service specialising in hearing assessments.
For more information about noise at work, or for guidance on employee health issues, contact the free Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 077 88 44.
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