The Importance of Hearing Protection in the Workplace

worker wearing hearing protection

Monday 3rd February marks the beginning of Tinnitus Awareness Week. Tinnitus is an unpleasant and debilitating condition which causes the sufferer to hear a noise or ringing in the ears. Unfortunately, it is just one of many potential hearing difficulties that can arise if inadequate policies, practices and procedures are not in place to protect employees from harmful noise levels in the workplace.

According to research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an estimated 21,000 workers experienced work-related hearing problems between 2016/17 and 2018/19. Noise can be a hazard in a wide range of work settings and it is vital that business owners understand their legal responsibilities for providing employees with adequate hearing protection. 

In this guide, we’ll review the law on hearing protection and consider how employers can make sure that it is used effectively in their workplace. 

What Are Your Legal Responsibilities as an Employer?

Under The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, employers are required to “prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work”, which means that they must:

  • Assess the risks to employees from workplace noise
  • Take action to mitigate the risk by reducing noise levels
  • Provide appropriate hearing protection, if it is not possible to reduce the level of noise by other means
  • Adhere to the legal limits on noise exposure
  • Provide employees with information, instruction and training
  • Conduct health surveillance where there is a risk to health

What are the Consequences of Non-Compliance?

Besides the potentially irreparable damage to employee health and quality of life, a failure to provide adequate noise protection in the workplace can result in a significant fine. Despite this, recent research by the Building Safety Group found that noise breaches have increased by 25% on construction sites and the HSE estimates that more than 2 million employees in the UK are exposed to unacceptable noise levels at work.

When do Employees Need Hearing Protection?

If workers are exposed to noise levels that exceed 85 decibels, an employer must provide appropriate hearing protection. For noise levels of 80 decibels or more, employers must ensure that relevant information and training is given.

Where noise levels present a hazard in the workplace, the first approach should always be to reduce the noise. If it is not possible to bring the noise down to a safe level, hearing protection should be provided. If it is possible to minimise the noise, but it may take time to implement the necessary changes, noise protection should be used as an interim safety measure.

What Actions Do I Need to Take?

  • Provide hearing protection that is adequate for the level of noise employees are exposed to. This may vary between work areas within the same workplace.
  • Make sure that the protection provided is comfortable, hygienic and fits well, especially if it must be worn with other PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) such as hard hats and safety goggles.
  • Implement a system of maintaining and replacing hearing protection to ensure that it is always fit for purpose.
  • Include the rules for wearing noise protection in your health and safety policy.
  • Provide employees with training and information on how and when to use noise protection.
  • Appoint a member of staff to conduct checks on the use of hearing protection and compliance with the company policy.
  • Limit the number of employees working in high-level noise areas to those who have to be there.

How to Get Started with Noise Protection in the Workplace

Howlett Health and Safety Services can provide your company with expert advice and training on noise protection in the workplace. We can help you to put the right documentation in place, ensure that employees are well-informed and that your business is compliant with noise protection legislation. Our online noise awareness training is a great place to start. All our training are approved by industry leading bodies. Get in touch to find out more.

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