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The Risks of Working in a Noisy Environment

30 April 2013 No Comment

Certain types of employment will have occupational hazards. Even a standard office job will pose various dangers and risks. However if you work at a factory, operate heavy machinery or are in close proximity to loud noises, your hearing may be at risk.

Ultimately it is the employer’s responsibility to safeguard its workforce against potential dangers such as a noisy working environment. Nevertheless, it is still important to recognise the harm noise can cause, an employer’s legal duties, identifying problems, controlling the issue and preventing harm.

Hearing damage

The biggest risk associated with working in a noisy environment is hearing damage, which can often be permanent and disabling. A loss of hearing can occur gradually because of prolonged exposure over time, or it can be sudden damage due to an excessively loud noise.

Consequences of hearing damage include being unable to understand speech or conduct a conversation. Another common side effect is tinnitus, a condition where the individual can hear a constant ringing, whistling, buzzing or humming in their ears.

In addition to these distressing consequences, safety is also comprised as damage can limit the victim’s ability to hear potential warnings at work such as alarms or common sounds in everyday life like emergency services sirens.

Legal requirements

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 stipulates that loud noises should be eliminated or reduced to improve the health and safety of employees.

This legislation recommends taking action on reducing noise exposure or providing employees with personal hearing protection. An employee should also make sure that legal sound limits are not exceeded, equipment is provided and continually maintained, employees provided with information, instruction and training as well as the regular carrying out of health surveillance. The latter point is key, and if an employer does not take the necessary steps to safeguard its workforce against noise, they could face industrial deafness claims as a result.

Identifying excessive noise

If the noise is intrusive for most of the working day or an employee has to raise their voice to carry out a normal conversation, a preventative measure should be implemented.

Noisy power tools or machinery, industries including construction, demolition and manufacturing as well as working with explosives may also require some sort of protection.

With employment that relies on warning sounds to avoid dangerous situations and work requiring constant verbal communications, the ability to hear should not be compromised.

Controlling noise

There are several ways to reduce noise exposure and in most cases the solution can be both practical and cost-effective. The ideal scenario is eliminating the source altogether, however if this is not possible, an employer may consider:

· Using a quieter process or equipment
· Technical modifications to reduce the source’s noise, such as an exhaust muffler, for example.
· Using a screen, barrier or absorbent materials
· Re-arranging the workspace to create a quieter environment
· Limiting time spent in noisy areas

Employers may also consider purchasing quieter machinery in the future or regularly servicing and maintaining equipment.

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