Occupational noise-induced hearing loss (ONIHL) is the most common occupational health condition in the world and the most commonly reported occupational disease in Europe. Moreover, It is estimated that nearly two million of the 12 million UK adults suffering from hearing loss have had their hearing damaged due to noise exposure at work. (1)
Excessive noise in the workplace can dramatically affect a workforce, leading to a combination of health problems for staff and a reduction in productivity. It is a misnomer to consider noise to only be a critical problem in a manufacturing and/or industrial environment. It can also be a major problem in any working environment, including offices.
Prevention is better than cure – and often more practical
The obvious ‘cure’ for too much sound is earphones, earplugs or headsets but they all come with one major drawback. You can’t hold a conversation with anyone else while wearing them. As a result, reducing noise in the workplace is the only viable option.
A recent article on the HSE Website explains that recent research on noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) shows around a fifth of the British working population could be exposed to high noise levels while doing their job.
The article goes on to say that whilst Britain has seen new cases of occupational deafness significantly drop over the past decade, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is urging workplaces to consider the shout test to manage noise at work and ways to give workers’ ears a break.
HSE’s noise expert Chris Steel said: “If you are shouting at work and can’t be heard from two metres away, the chances are there’s a noise issue. Try it out for yourself and see if you can be heard. Preserving hearing at work is crucial as noise can cause temporary or permanent hearing damage”.
Steel expands further:
“But there needs to be a balance. While too little noise reduction could cause hearing damage, too much could isolate the worker and lead to accidents.”
The issue of noise at work is the subject of a scientific report recently discussed by specialists in the field. The Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC) report says about 20% of the working population in Great Britain could be exposed to high noise levels (>85 dBA).
The report goes on to say that while there are limited statistics on the prevalence of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) in Britain, the most likely affected groups of workers are those who have been employed in the armed services, shipyards, construction, and agriculture.
How you can control noise
As an employer, you must assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to noise so that you can protect the hearing of your employees.
Where the risks are low, the actions you take may be simple and inexpensive, but where the risks are high, you should manage them using a prioritised noise-control action plan.
Where required, ensure that:
- Hearing protection is provided and used
- Any other controls are properly used
- You provide information, training and health surveillance
Review what you are doing if anything changes that may affect the noise exposures where you work. If you are already using hearing protection, it needs to be managed so try using CUFF:
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