Loud noise at work can damage your hearing. This usually happens gradually and it may only be when the damage caused by noise combines with hearing loss due to ageing that people realise how impaired their hearing has become.
Noise can be a problem in the printing industry. Specific guidance for Noise in Printing is being developed. This article identifies the problem, what you need to do and further information.
Short duration exposure to high noise levels can cause temporary hearing loss. Permanent hearing loss results from longer term exposures. Often, you don’t know your hearing is being damaged until some hearing loss has happened. Some effects of noise exposure are quicker, such as developing tinnitus. This can be a permanent ringing or whooshing sound that gets worse when it is quiet.
Why is dealing with noise important?
This can be gradual, from exposure to noise over time, but damage can also be caused by sudden, extremely loud, noises. The damage is disabling in that it can stop people being able to understand speech, keep up with conversations or use the telephone.
Hearing loss is not the only problem. People may develop tinnitus (ringing, whistling, buzzing or humming in the ears), a distressing condition which can lead to disturbed sleep.
Noise at work can interfere with communications and make warnings harder to hear. It can also reduce a person’s awareness of his or her surroundings. These factors can lead to safety risks – putting people at risk of injury or death.
What you need to do
Control the risk of hearing damage by reducing noise exposure as low as possible if you cannot eliminate it. You must reduce daily noise exposure to at least 85 decibels (second action level) and preferably to 80 decibels (first action level) or less.
Assess noise exposure
Work out the likely noise exposure levels in your workplace for workers based on the range of jobs they do. The HSE noise calculators will help you work out the likely exposure levels.
The best way of reducing noise in the workplace is to reduce noise at source. Plan to reduce by:
- Change machines or processes to produce less noise
- Enclose noisy machines eg provide acoustic enclosures/hoods
- Separate noisy machines and processes e.g. separate rooms
- Implement a System for Plant maintenance which minimises noise levels
- Provide refuges for employees to reduce exposure
Provide hearing protection
If noise levels are still above the exposure levels after noise reduction provide hearing protection and make sure operators use it. Hearing protection should:
- Reduce the sound level reaching the ear to at least below 85 decibels – preferably 80
- Have a SNR (Single Number Rating) of around 20 – it stops 20 decibels of sound
- Reduce noise to no less than 70 decibels – communication difficult and warnings unheard
- Be worn properly and during exposure- train employees on fit, use, disposal, replacement
- Be comfortable- offer choice
Use the calculator on HSE noise website to check if your hearing protection gives the right level of protection.
Buy cost effective hearing protection – employees may use several pairs per day of cheap, basic earplugs, so repeated use protection may be best. Consider hearing protection with additional benefits:
- level-dependent protectors that allow easier communication during quieter intervals
- Custom moulded plugs which are more comfortable and easier to fit.