Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the more common types/causes of hearing loss. Exposure of high levels of noise for years in the workplace can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. This could be of a mild, moderate or even severe degree. This post covers how companies can work to reduce work-related noise-induced hearing loss.
Causes of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
In basic terms; within the inner portion of our ears are tiny 'hair-cells' that are essential in receiving information from incoming sound waves. This information then travels via nerve pathways to the brain for interpretation. Sustained exposure to high levels of noise (over 85db) can damage these hair cells. Long-term exposure to loud noise overworks the hairs in the ears and can cause them to die.
It is not only long-term exposure that can cause hearing loss, but a 'sound trauma' can also cause damage. A 'sound trauma' is a burst of sound, such as an explosion. They can cause temporary hearing loss, as the ear hairs bend with the effect of the loud noise. Once the hair becomes straight again hearing returns. However, if the noise causes too much damage some hairs will die and repeated exposure can destroy the hairs causing permanent hearing loss. To put levels of noise into perspective - drill can make 100 - 110 db of noise, a quiet office makes 40 - 50 db of noise.
Government Noise Regulations
Based on the 2005 government noise regulations, businesses should monitor and actively protect their employees from the risks of noise-induced hearing loss. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005) aims to protect employees from exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels.
10 Ways to Reduce Work-Related Noise-Related Hearing Loss
- Perform noise tests - a health and safety consultant should carry out an investigation to highlight areas exceeding noise levels of 85db
- Regular noise tests - to combat the ever-changing work environment noise tests should be performed as deemed necessary by health and safety consultants.
- Make employees aware of the risks - those working in noisy environments should be made aware of the risks posed by noise to their hearing.
- Move to quieter processes - The one means to help guarantee no noise-induced hearing loss is to move to quieter processes and replace noisy machinery.
- Report noise hazards - Employees who feel that they are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss should be given means to report them. The new hazard could then be targeted for noise control enforcement.
- Use hearing protection - In areas deemed potentially harmful, hearing protection should be compulsory. Earplugs typically carry an upper ceiling noise protection level of 20db. The levels of protection offered will vary according to their fit and material used.
- Use hearing protection - These can carry a higher noise protection ceiling and can be used together with earplugs. The degree of noise protection will vary depending on their measured standard.
- Hearing protection training - Use of any hearing protection aids should include training on their correct use, removal and maintenance.
- Hearing tests - Regular hearing screening tests and further diagnostic testing should be provided to employees if required.
- Careful management by a health and safety professional- It is important that the efforts to reduce noise-induced hearing loss are managed by a professional.