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Why you should be taking a fresh look at how you protect your workforce from hearing loss.

We began our deep dive into the issues around work related hearing loss by discussing the catastrophic effects of hearing loss caused by noise exposure. In the second of our articles on the topic of hearing loss, we take a look at the responsibilities your business has in complying with noise exposure safety regulations.

The 2005 Control of Noise at Work Regulations replaced earlier legislation (The Noise at Work Regulations 1989) and still forms the backbone of current legislation, with most recent updates released in 2021.

The exposure limits placed by the 2005 Act have not changed in the current iteration and give clear guidance on average/peak exposure levels. Action is recommended at the lower exposure action values of (a) a daily or weekly personal noise exposure of 80 dB; and (b) a peak sound pressure of 135 dB, with staged action points up to an upper level of 87 dB and 140 dB.

What HAS changed is the recognition of the seriousness of injury caused by noise. In 2018 new PPE regulations came into effect, reclassifying harmful noise from Category 2 to Category 3. This means that noise is being considered as harmful as asbestos, or even bullets. The change means that PPE is subject to additional layers of testing. A five-year grace period for products bought at that time ended in April 2023.

Understanding of noise hazards has moved on

Research into noise induced hearing loss has increased and technology has progressed. The 2021 legislation update places a much stronger emphasis on control and management of risk or exposure, rather than simply providing protection. The importance of suitable risk assessments is stressed, to identify every location and every person likely to be affected.

It is now understood that merely improving ear protection to the point where sound is eliminated holds its own serious risks. Workers feel isolated, may well remove headsets to hear a colleague speak, or may be at serious risk from not hearing warning noises. Accidents such as the rail workers killed in Port Talbot in 2019 illustrate this clearly. The 2005 regulations were updated in October 2021 to take account of these kind of developments.

When do you need to consider a noise risk assessment?

The legislation states that action is necessary if noise continues at certain decibel levels over certain periods of time:

  • If the noise is intrusive but normal conversation is possible for 6 hours (Probable level - 80 dB)
  • You have to shout to talk to someone 2 m away for 2 hours (Probable level 85 dB)
  • You have to shout to talk to someone 1 m away for 45 minutes (Probable level 90 dB)

What are your responsibilities?

Under the recently enhanced legislation, employees are obliged to:

  • Fully understand the noise levels and exposure their staff are subject to, conducting noise risk assessments.
  • Work to reduce noise proactively. (This includes selecting quieter tools and machinery.)
  • Provide suitable protection.
  • Understand the wear rates and effectiveness of the PPE used.
  • Provide staff with adequate information, instruction and training about the risk and how to minimise this.
  • Ensure correct fit testing and deployment, informing, instructing and training their workforce.
  • Ensure that situational awareness (the sounds that employees NEED to hear) is not compromised.
  • Be able to provide evidence of the above in the event of an employee claim.

Complying with legislation will support your bottom line

The European Agency for Health and safety at Work report that loud noise can create physical and psychological stress, reduce productivity, interfere with communication and concentration, and contribute to workplace accidents and injuries by making it difficult to hear warning signals. Staff with hearing problems have a doubled chance of having an accident at work. Complying with legislation will reduce this significant productivity risk to business and engage the workforce in managing their personal health.

NIHL is irreversible, proven to affect a person’s health far beyond just their hearing and is consequently hugely expensive for employers. Compensation lawyers suggest the following claims.

  • Mild hearing loss / inconsistent tinnitus: £5,000 - £10,000
  • Deafness in both ears and/or loss of speech: £75,000 +

Currently the HSE estimates that 11,000 people in the UK are affected by noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). This is based on figures from a period affected by Covid shutdowns, pre-pandemic figures were closer to 21,000.

It is widely accepted that it costs four times as much to defend an insurance claim than to simply pay out, and NIHL related insurance claims are rising fast. The Association of British Insurers suggests that UK claims for occupational deafness top £360 million per year.

If one of your employees decides to take action, can you be sure that your business has fully complied with current regulations? In the light of advanced understanding and technology it may well be time to consider updating the methods and processes you use to mitigate the risks.

It is now possible to use PPE intelligently, combining it with smart systems which will monitor and assess not only the level and location of environmental noise hazards, but also the levels of noise that can actually be heard within the ear protection.

Anchor Safety believes that it is time for employers to take steps to ensure their PPE provision is not only best in class but works to mitigate or even eliminate the risk from noise hazards. Constant remote monitoring allows you to:

  • Adapt workspaces and work patterns to avoid noise hazards in the first place
  • Ensure Employees hear the sounds that are necessary to their safety.
  • Hold a record of continuous noise mitigation evidence – not just a one-time assessment.
  • Demonstrate to your staff and customers the value you place on health and safety and that you are willing to invest in cutting edge technology to maximise both staff health and your company production levels.

Contact us to find out more about how our expertise could really update and enhance your strategy.

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