Are your tools damaging your hearing?

Are your tools damaging your hearing?

The construction industry is noisy and has the second highest rate of people developing occupational deafness. With this in mind, Insulation Express has investigated the noise levels of construction tools, and looked at some of the many ways the trades can protect themselves.

 The volume of sound is measured in decibels (dB). A higher decibel means a louder noise, and more damaging. This scale is measured from 0 to 140dB. However, if you’re exposed to anything at 85dB or higher for extended periods of time, your hearing can be permanently damaged.

The decibels of most construction tools are way above the recommended limit (85 dB), so ear protection should always be worn.

For example, using a scabbler for 15 minutes is nearly as loud and just as damaging to our ears as a helicopter flying at 100ft. Using a pneumatic breaker without protection for one minute is the noise equivalent of a military jet taking off.

At the top of the noise scale is a cartridge tool. Even using this for one second creates sound levels of 157dB, that are instantly damaging to your hearing without protection.

Keep your ear defenders on at all times

It might be tempting, as you become familiarised with the noise level on a construction site, to remove your hearing protection. However, research from the Health & Safety Executive has revealed that removing your protection for a even just a couple of minutes can seriously damage your hearing.

For example, if you were to use an electric drill (100 dB) whilst wearing ear defenders that give a protection of 25dB, your ears would only hear noise levels of 75dB. However, removing your protection for five minutes reduces that 25dB protection to just 11dB, which would expose you to a noise level of 9dB (100dB of the tool minus 11dB). Unfortunately, this is over the previously recommended noise level of 85dB and can, therefore, permanently damage your hearing.

Noisier sites

Bob Gowen a volunteer for Hearing Link and an electrician for over 35 years, believes that construction employees are “now [working] in noisier environments” than he did, yet “private contractors don’t supply ear protection for their staff”.

Gowen adds that the main concern is that younger employees don’t seem to realise what the noise is doing to their hearing, so “getting them to wear protection is another problem”. Unfortunately, this means that “by the time they get into the 40 and 50 [age] bracket it is usually too late to save their hearing”.

This is especially concerning considering that hearing loss can seriously impact your life. Once Gowen started to suffer from hearing impairment, employees on construction sites often joked at his expense. “What I worry about is how other people with hearing loss who work in the construction industry cope. Unlike me, they may not be self-employed and therefore cannot simply walk away.”

Protection for employees

According to the World Health Organisation, 50 per cent of all hearing issues can be prevented through various health measures. So, how exactly should employers protect their workers’ hearing?

Under ‘The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005’, employers have a duty to reduce and control noise as much as possible on a site. There are a number of ways employers can protect their employees from hearing damage, such as:

  • Supply hearing protection.
  • Purchasing quieter tools.
  • Making machinery as quiet as possible by using pads to minimise vibration, using silent blades and nozzles, or replacing fans and motors.
  • Looking out for alternative ways to carry out the construction work without the use of loud machinery – like doing tasks by hand.
  • Limiting the amount of time workers are exposed to a noisy task.

 Identifying hearing loss

Generally, occupational hearing loss is gradual, but you can spot symptoms to prevent any further damage. These include:

  • Ringing in ears
  • People sound like they are mumbling
  • Hard to hear when there’s background noise
  • Asking people to repeat what they said
  • Speech sounds muffled or distorted
  • Muffled hearing at the end of your working day

Once you lose your hearing, sadly you cannot get it back, so it’s important to always wear hearing guards in noisy environments. A good way to test your hearing is on your journey to work – play the radio at a volume just loud enough to hear. On your way home play the radio again at the same volume, if you can’t hear it as well you may have damaged your hearing.

There are also online hearing tests and apps, from Boots and the World Health Organisation. In the case your hearing is compromised, use sufficient hearing protection and speak to your GP.


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