Preventing Industrial Deafness

There are certain responsibilities that are required of your employer if you work in a noisy environment. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Noise Regulations 2005) requires that employers prevent or reduce the risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work. Your employer should adhere to the requirements as stipulated in the policy, but if you are concerned about aspects of possible industrial deafness in your workplace you can look to the following factors to attempt to mitigate the risks.

Steps that can help to prevent industrial deafness

  • Ensure that any hearing protection supplied by your employer is used correctly and at the correct times (when the upper noise exposure levels are reached).
  • Ear defenders, ear plugs, and semi-aural inserts are common forms of ear protection that should be used in upper noise level exposure circumstances.
  • Workers exposed to high levels of noise should be correctly trained to use hearing protection equipment. If you have not received correct training about how to use the equipment, ask for training and information.
  • Hearing protectors should be properly fitted and maintained.
  • Consider the machinery being used that generates the noise. Is there a way to position the machinery in a way that lessens noise output to workers or an option to purchase machinery that produces less noise?
  • Look towards having the workplace layout optimised so that noisy and quieter processes are kept separate from each other.
  • Ensure that regular noise level risk assessments are conducted in the workplace.
  • Do not stay in areas of high levels of noise for any longer than necessary.

If you are an employee in a workplace that carries the risk of being exposed to high levels of noise, your employer should inform you of the following aspects.

  • The likely noise level you will be exposed to and the risk to hearing that this level of noise can create.
  • What is being done to control the risks associated with the level of noise.
  • Where can noise protective equipment be obtained?
  • How you can report problems with the noise controlling or noise protection equipment.
  • How to use the noise protection equipment, store it and maintain it in the correct manner.
  • What your employer’s health surveillance policy is and what their obligations under Noise Regulations 2005 are.

Types of ear protectors

If you are working in a high noise environment you will likely be offered one of the following types of ear protector.

Ear defenders

Ear defenders usually come in the form of two ear muffs attached to a band that goes over the head, akin to a pair of hi-fi headphones. It is important that the seal between the ear defender and the ear is very snug so that there is no external noise leakage into the ear. Often these type of ear protector can be fitted to helmets for workers that also need head protection.

Ear plugs

Ear plugs are probably the most common form of ear protection and can come in re-usable or disposable varieties – they are essentially small “plugs” that fit in the ear cavity to help block external noise. The key to using this type of ear protection is making sure that the plug fits correctly. This may mean that customisable plugs are required to fit different ear sizes. A fault that can occur among users of ear plugs is that the plug is not inserted correctly. It is essential that the plug is pushed in at the correct angle and depth to gain the full benefit of the device, otherwise there will be significant noise leakage which could cause hearing damage. When using re-usable ear plugs it is important to keep them clean as good aural hygiene can help prevent the chances of ear infections.

Semi-aural inserts

Semi-aural inserts are similar to ear plugs but they do not fit in the ear as deep as standard ear plugs so are often not the best option in areas of high noise – do not use in areas above 87 dB or more. Semi-aural inserts are usually fitted on a band that can go around the neck or under the chin for convenience.