What are the dangers of excess noise in the workplace and how do you assess the risks?
Loud noise in the workplace can be very damaging to hearing and it usually happens gradually, so that employees are not aware of the dangers until they have already developed permanent hearing loss. As well as gradual hearing loss, there is also hearing loss that results from sudden and extremely loud noises.
In order to make sure that your workplace is not causing damage to the hearing of your employees, it is important to perform a noise risk assessment. This involves identifying the potential risks of loud noises in the workplace and determining what the best course of action is for eliminating those risks. It is the responsibility of the employer to assess these risks and make sure that workers are not exposed to high levels of noise that could cause them long term hearing problems.
The Dangers of Excessive Noise in the Workplace
When it comes to excessive noise in the workplace, it can cause a number of serious issues for your employees. Hearing damage is permanent and cannot be repaired once it has occurred. The damage that can occur can be disabling and it can affect quality of life. For example, hearing loss can cause the employee to not be able to understand speech, use the telephone, watch movies or TV shows, listen to music or keep up with conversations. This can cause feelings of isolation and depression and can result in the need for a hearing aid.
Also, other problems besides hearing loss can develop. Tinnitus, which is a ringing or whistling in the ears can be a very distressing condition that can lead to trouble sleeping and other issues.
If there is excess noise in your workplace, it can also interfere with your communication and make it harder for employees to hear danger or warnings. When the employee is not aware of their surroundings because they cannot hear what is happening, this can lead to serious safety risks and can put workers at risk of severe injury and even death.
Common Causes of Noise Problems
Do you have a problem with excess noise in your workplace? The first step of conducting a risk assessment is to identify the problem. For example do you have an intrusive noise present in the workplace – such as a crowded restaurant, a busy street, a vacuum cleaner or loud music for most of the working day? If so, this noise could be having long term effects on the health of your employees.
Another question is – do your employees ever have to raise their voice in order to have a normal conversation when they are only two metres apart? If so, the noise is too loud and should be reduced in some way. For example, a bartender in a noisy nightclub could find themselves suffering from hearing damage due to the music and the crowds. They might need to wear earplugs as personal protective equipment during their shift to prevent long term hearing loss.
Also, you should consider whether or not your employees are using noisy machinery or power tools during the day. If this is the case even for more than half an hour, this can be a risk factor. Noisy factories such as wood working, textile manufacture, plastic processing, bottling, foundries and general fabrication will naturally have a high risk of excess noise in the workplace.
Don’t forget about the sounds of impacts, such as drop forging, hammering, guns, detonators or pneumatic tools. When these types of equipment make a sudden loud sound it can cause immediate hearing damage to anyone who is not wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment. Unlike hearing loss that develops over time, this type of hearing loss is immediate – yet it is still damaging and irreversible.
How to Perform a Noise Risk Assessment
In order to determine the risks in the workplace and to figure out how best to deal with them, you will need to perform a noise risk assessment. This type of assessment is designed to help you decide what you will need to do in order to make sure your employees are safe. It is much more than just taking measurements of the noise levels in the workplace, it will include a lot of other factors.
What should a thorough Noise Risk Assessment include?
- You will need to identify where there might be a risk from noise and figure out who is likely to be affected. Take a close look at the workplace and procedures to determine where the danger could come from.
- The next step is to estimate the exposure of the employee to noise and to compare it with the exposure action values and limit values.
- Secondly, you need to identify the steps that you need to take in order to comply with the law – such as noise control measures or requiring hearing protection. If this type of protection is required, you will need to figure out where and what type is necessary.
- It is also important to decide whether any of your employees need to be provided with health surveillance and whether they are at any particular risk.
Your risk assessment should be recorded and you should perform follow ups on a regular basis in case the working environment changes and new risks arise. Make sure that the risk assessment is drawn up by someone who is able to carry out the task and it is based on advice from people who are capable of providing said advice. There might be someone in your company who is capable of doing this, or you might need to hire an external health and safety consultant.
Noise risk assessments are very important so that you can spot the danger of excess noise and deal with it before serious damage is done. Noise in the workplace can cause long term damage that is life changing and irreversible, so make sure that you are doing all you can to prevent this from happening.