Peter Dumigan, MD of Hultafors Group UK, offers some sound advice on hearing protection.
Hearing damage caused by exposure to noise at work is permanent and incurable, with research estimating that over 2 million people can be exposed to noise levels that are potentially harmful. More often than not, hearing loss is gradual – and as a result of prolonged exposure to noise – but when combined with normal loss of hearing as you age it becomes a rapidly deteriorating condition.
As an added hazard, exposure to unsafe noise levels can also result in tinnitus, a permanent sensation of background ringing or buzzing your ears. But in the most serious of cases, immediate damage to your hearing can also be caused by sudden loud noises.
As far as the health and safety regulations are concerned, the noise threshold for providing hearing protection is now a daily exposure of 85 decibels. More importantly, the level at which employers must assess the risk to workers’ health and provide them with risk information and training is now 80 decibels.
So, making the right, well informed decision is as important for the self-employed as it is for employers. As an employer, if they ask for them – and if their noise exposure is between the lower and upper exposure thresholds – you have to provide your employees with properly maintained hearing protectors. You also have to make sure they use them properly and establish hearing protection zones where the use of hearing protection is compulsory.
Avoiding damaging sounds
Too often we take our health and well-being for granted, and probably never stop to consider what fantastic sensory organs our ears actually are. As well as helping us communicate, our hearing helps to keep us safe. It is the link to our surroundings and is vital for how we communicate with others.
Our hearing isn’t designed for many of the sounds we are exposed to today especially the unwanted sounds – those that can potentially damage your hearing. So remember, if you need to raise your voice or scream to be heard when standing about metre from someone on site – then its more than likely that the noise around you is dangerous!
What is noise and how does it relate to working on site?
Working on site all the day means that noise is constantly being poured into your hearing. But what many people don’t realise is that every noise source and the length of time you’re exposed to it has an exposure level measurement and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can reach the maximum daily safety exposure dose without proper protection.
For instance, drilling into wood at 92 decibels would only give you 10 minutes safe exposure against your full day’s allowance! Drilling into metal creates 96 decibels of noise, a chain saw 99 decibels, a circular saw 101 decibels, drilling into concrete 108 decibels and an angle grinder 109 decibels. So if you haven’t got proper hearing protection, you shouldn’t be on site working and handling tools for very long at all!
Choosing the right hearing protection
Always use hearing protection when exposed to harmful noise and, if necessary, choose a protector adapted to your work environment – ie a product with ‘level dependent hearing protection’.
Hellberg Safety recommends that the calculated level under the hearing protector should be around 75 decibels given that its real-life (attenuation) performance may be affected because of incorrect fitting, misuse and poor maintenance. Performance protection can even be affected by anything that impairs the hearing protector’s seal, such as long hair, facial hair and glasses!
Choose hearing protection that fits correctly and is comfortable the entire time you are exposed to noise at work and even if you’re mowing the lawn or strimming.
Make sure you’ve got 100 per cent wear time in noisy environments and remember, the use of eyewear can reduce the hearing protector’s attenuation of between 3 – 8 decibels, so if possible, select thin eyewear frames.
Finally, your health and well-being on site is just as important as getting a job done quickly, efficiently and in comfort. So choose your PPE products carefully, so you get the right kind of passive or active hearing protection whatever you’re doing or wherever you’re working on site.