MANY WORKERS IN THE UK ARE
EXPOSED TO NOISE LEVELS WHICH MAY BE HARMFUL TO THEIR HEARING.
NOISE CAN BE AN ISSUE IN MANY COMMON JOB TYPES, SOME PARTICULARLY HIGH RISK ENVIRONMENTS INCLUDE BUILDING SITES, AIRPORT APRONS, WORKSHOPS AND NIGHTCLUBS.
By law, as an employer, you must assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to noise so that you can protect the hearing of your employees.
Where the risks are low, the actions you take may be simple and inexpensive, but where the risks are high, you should manage them using a prioritised noise-control action plan.
Where required, ensure that:
hearing protection is provided and used;
any other controls are properly used; and
you provide information, training and health surveillance.
Review what you are doing if anything changes that may affect the noise exposures where you work.
The health effects of noise at work
Noise at work can cause hearing loss that can be temporary or permanent. People often experience temporary deafness after leaving a noisy place. Although hearing recovers within a few hours, this should not be ignored. It is a sign that if you continue to be exposed to the noise your hearing could be permanently damaged. Permanent hearing damage can be caused immediately by sudden, extremely loud, explosive noises, eg from guns or cartridge-operated machines.
But hearing loss is usually gradual because of prolonged exposure to noise. It may only be when damage caused by noise over the years combines with hearing loss due to ageing that people realise how deaf they have become. This may mean their family complains about the television being too loud, they cannot keep up with conversations in a group, or they have trouble using the telephone. Eventually everything becomes muffled and people find it difficult to catch sounds like 't', 'd' and 's', so they confuse similar words.
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.
Remember: Young people can be damaged as easily as the old.
Do you have a noise problem at work?
This will depend on how loud the noise is and how long people are exposed to it. As a simple guide you will probably need to do something about the noise if any of the following apply
Is the noise intrusive - like a busy street, a vacuum cleaner or a crowded restaurant - for most of the working day?
Do your employees have to raise their voices to carry out a normal conversation when about 2 m apart for at least part of the day?
Do your employees use noisy powered tools or machinery for more than half an hour each day?
Do you work in a noisy industry, eg construction, demolition or road repair; woodworking; plastics processing; engineering; textile manufacture; general fabrication; forging, pressing or stamping; paper or board making; canning or bottling; foundries?
Are there noises due to impacts (such as hammering, drop forging, pneumatic impact tools etc), explosive sources such as cartridge operated tools or detonators, or guns?
Noise can also be a safety hazard at work, interfering with communication and making warnings harder to hear. Some examples of typical noise levels are shown in the graphic.
All PPE used at work must be CE marked to confirm it has been designed to meet at least the minimum requirements laid out in law. However, employers are responsible for selecting the right PPE for their task, substance, work environment and the wearer.
The Health and Safety Executive regard the BSIF as the primary route for information regarding the procurement of PPE. Buying from a BSIF registered supplier is the only recognised way y ou can be sure you will only be supplied with genuine, appropriately approved product and that you'll receive sound advice without any attempt to mislead you.
When Should A Noise Assessment Be Conducted
Covering all industries; the legislation requires any employer who intends to perform work that will likely expose the workforce to excessive noise, to complete a risk assessment that outlines how this will affect health and safety. It must also identify the necessary measures that will be taken to ensure noise levels meet the requirements of the regulations.
Employers must provide hearing protection and also hearing protection zones if the noise level is 85 decibels or above.
The level at which risk assessments must take place is 80 decibels. Workers must not be exposed to noise levels greater than 87 decibels; taking into consideration the reduction provided by hearing protection. Workers must also have regular hearing tests if they are regularly exposed to sound levels greater than 85 decibels. If you have identified any noisy activities that may expose your workers or other people at your workplace to hazardous noise then, unless you can reduce the exposures to below the standard immediately, you should assess the risks by carrying out a noise assessment.
A noise assessment will help you:
Identify which workers are at risk of hearing loss
Determine what noise sources and processes are causing that risk
Identify if and what kind of noise control measures could be implemented
Check the effectiveness of existing control measures.
A noise assessment may not always need a measurement. For example, if only one activity at the workplace – the use of a single machine – involves noise above 85 dB(A) and the manufacturer has provided information about the machine’s noise levels when it is operated in particular ways, then a sufficient assessment can be made without measurement. More complex situations may require measurement to accurately determine a worker’s exposure to noise, such as workplaces with variable noise levels over a shift and jobs where workers move in and out of noisy areas.
Who can perform the assessment?
A noise assessment should be done by a competent person. The more complex the situation, the more knowledgeable and experienced the person needs to be. A competent person is one who has accurately calibrated noise measuring instruments and, through training and experience:
Understands what is required by The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005
Knows how to check the performance of the instruments
Knows how to take the measurements properly
Can interpret the results of the noise measurements
What information should be included in a noise assessment report?
EUROX has qualified risk assessors able to attend your site to provide a risk assessment and help you keep your employees hearing safe. Our assessment reports will enable you select appropriate control measures to ensure noise is kept to an acceptable level.
ASSESS YOUR CURRENT RPE PROGRAMME STATUS
A recent in-depth investigation of a small sample of companies showed only around half were effective in protecting the wearer through their use of RPE as a control. The Health and Safety Executive looked at the reasons for this and found there were four different groups. However, only one could be confident that their workers will be protected.
YOU WILL FALL INTO ONE OF THESE FOUR GROUPS OF RPE USERS:
· - companies with a fit-for-purpose RPE programme, managers with an acceptable level of RPE competence
· - companies with systems in place, and generally aware of what they need to do, but still some way to go with implementation of their RPE programme.
· - companies without fully effective RPE practices, managers in the process of establishing a formal RPE programme.
· - companies with workers protected from respiratory hazards despite a significant RPE knowledge and skills gap at managerial level and the absence of a structured RPE programme.
If you recognise yourself or your company as a developer, learner or fortuitous, there is a danger your RPE is not protecting your workers. To be confident that you are protecting workers, you need be amongst those termed proficient, having both sufficient knowledge and achieving the proper control. There are a number of signs that will indicate where you are:
They have some understanding but RPE still may not be protecting the workers. Some reasons why we say this are:
• Some evidence they have developed health and safety expertise.
• Keen to improve further but want to be told what to do.
• Respond to others’ (external) suggestions.
• Take an 'educate workers' approach to enforcement rather than disciplinary approach.
• Want a simple life (e.g., no/little maintenance, simple stock control)
• Recognise that they still have some way to go on a journey to good RPE performance.
• Cost is an issue during times of low productivity.
• Heavily influenced by workers' wants and needs.
• Assume that workers know what to do, without adequate supervision/checks.
• Aware of having no formal maintenance programme in place.
You have a good understanding and RPE used will be protecting the worker. Some reasons why we say this are:
• Evidence of health and safety knowledge and expertise
• Senior management commitment and a motivation to improve and recognition that their own actions influence their workers.
• Some provision of training with induction and fit testing as a minimum
• Supervision and enforcement of RPE use in place.
• Close industry networks and a 'social dialogue agreement' with other companies
• Proactive in searching for improvements using various external sources.
• General health and safety and housekeeping is a priority.
• Recognise the importance of having clear RPE procedures in place.
• Involve workers to accommodate preferences balanced against the RPE protection.
• Heavy focus on COSHH and risk assessments
• Close monitoring of health/respiratory issues
• Frequent verbal communications with workforce on RPE
You lack understanding and RPE may not be protecting the worker. Some reasons why we say this are:
• Overconfident their workers know the risks and how to protect themselves and rely on this.
• Tendency to adopt an authoritarian style of management with little worker involvement or behaviour change attempts.
• Opted for quick and cheap controls and assume that these are working until told otherwise.
• Unaware of the legal requirement to fit test and other necessary stages of the RPE process (e.g., proper storage, maintenance)
They have little understanding - RPE is likely to be protecting the workers but more by luck. Some reasons why we say this are:
• Significant gaps in RPE knowledge/awareness
• Management in need of RPE training
• Assume that workers know how to protect themselves and rely on their RPE knowledge acquired in previous/other jobs.
• Rely too much on external information sources and their RPE suppliers.
• Little communication and training on RPE
EUROX CAN HELP YOU IMPLEMENT A PROFICIENT RPE PROGRAMME.
One of the key issues found, especially among learners, was an over-reliance on employee 'common sense' to use RPE correctly. The study also found that the majority of participating companies needed some improvement in two areas:
• Management and worker knowledge - especially on awareness and understanding of respiratory risks and on general RPE issues, such as the need for fit testing.
• Knowledge of ongoing monitoring, storage and maintenance requirements - substandard maintenance was a recurring theme.
It is clear from the investigation that a number of factors affect RPE programme development such as legislation, external audits by HSE, insurers and industry groups. Contact us today learn how Eurox can help you become proficient in protecting your workforce.
As each generation joins the workforce we must consider that they may not be as acutely aware, of some of the historical occupational health revelations, issues and challenges previous generation witnessed first hand during the twentieth century. Times changes but the need to educate and continually reaffirm our commitment to protect the young and enthusiastic from dangers that , to them, seem historical and a world away from today remains critical.
HSE LIVE DEMONSTRATION OF POOR FIT.
Nick Baxter from the HSE Science and Research Centre demonstrates the FaceFit Respirator Demonstrator used as a memorable visual that beards, goggles and ill-fitting nose clips compromise mask efficiency.
We routinely see workers with various degrees of stubble growth using respiratory protective masks, despite guidance to the contrary. HSE conducted research studying the effect of 0-7 days stubble growth on the protection given by FFP3 filtering facepieces and half masks.
Fifteen male volunteers took part, each testing four masks. For most, three different design FFP3 and one half mask were tested, selected from seven models of FFP3 and 2 half masks. Fit tests were carried out immediately after shaving and repeated six times during the following week, without further shaving.
Results showed that the effect on protection was quite specific to the mask/wearer combination. Protection could be significantly reduced where stubble was present, beginning within 24 hours from shaving, and generally worsening as facial hair grew. Statistical analysis predicted this could reach an unacceptable level for all of the masks tested.
While some individual wearers did grow some stubble without significantly reducing protection with some masks, this was unpredictable and it would not be practical to conduct the necessary testing to confirm this for every individual wearer.
These finding back up the current Guidance from HSE recommending that those with facial hair, scars, wrinkles or marks which prevent a tight seal in the area, use a loose-fitting device:
‘The wearer needs to be clean-shaven around the face seal to achieve an effective fit when using tight-fitting facepieces. Training is a good opportunity to make employees aware of this. If workers have beards, or are unable to be clean-shaven, a tight-fitting device will not be suitable so an appropriate loose-fitting device should be chosen.’
Employees: To pass a fit test, its time to find the Gillette guys.
Employers: To ensure your workforce are safe and compliant you must insist faces are cleanly shaven or provide loose fitting respirators such has hoods.
YOUR SAFETY REMAINS OUR NUMBER ONE PRIORITY