Suppose workers are exposed to high noise levels of 85dB. In that case, employers are responsible for providing hearing protection and hearing protection zones. For sound levels, at 80dB, an employer must carry out a risk assessment and provide information and training to workers.
But what if your employer hasn’t given you adequate training?
In light of World Hearing Day (Thursday, 3rd March), Katie Ogden, an HCPC registered hearing aid dispenser and the Training Manager of the ReSound, offers some advice both on the dangers of not protecting your hearing during construction work and tips on how to make sure your hearing is adequately protected.
‘Activities such as digging, concrete pouring and angle grinding are particularly loud aspects of the job, and if workers don’t protect their ears adequately, they can cause severe damage to their long term hearing.’
‘High noise levels in a workplace can also interfere with communication between workers, leading to an increased risk of accidents, injury and even death. Not only can heavy plant machinery, jigger picks, wacker plates etc., have an impact on hearing, they can also cause other medical conditions such as hand-arm vibration syndrome.’
‘This is why wearing the right personal protective equipment (PPE) is extremely important, with workers who refuse to do so putting themselves at risk of cuts and punctures, chemical burns, electric shocks and exposure to excessive noise or vibration.’
Below, Katie shares the PPE that employers must provide to workers, what to do if you fear your employer isn’t helping you to protect your hearing, and other hearing safety tips:
‘The construction industry reports a high number of fatal injuries and accidents per year, with workers knowingly subjecting themselves to high-risk – and often hazardous – situations, which is why PPE is so important.’
‘PPE is used to protect employees from health and safety risks they might encounter at work, including injuries to the lungs, head, eyes, ears and skin. Well-fitted PPE can therefore quite literally offer the difference between life and death in some cases.’
‘Types of protection employers require include head, foot and leg, eye and face, and ear protection, significant for workers operating in loud environments. Options available to protect ears include earplugs, earmuffs and semi-insert/canal caps.’
‘Ear PPE must provide a suitable level of protection for the work being undertaken, and all workers must be clear on how to wear their PPE correctly to ensure maximum protection. If workers have any concerns about the PPE they have been provided with, they should raise the issue with their employer.’
Here are some tips for construction workers to protect their hearing:
Take everyday noise protection care
While normal earplugs bought from a supermarket can protect and block sound, high-quality industrial earplugs are much better to help protect your ears and eardrums.
Industrial earplugs are one of the best ways for you to protect your hearing. They are small inserts that fit into your outer ear canal. They work by blocking the air canal with an airtight seal to block noise from entering your ears.
If you have trouble keeping them in your ears, you can even get earplugs fitted to a headband to ensure they constantly block out noise. Earmuffs/ear defenders are slightly different to earplugs as they sit on top of the ear rather than just blocking the canal.
By fitting over the entire outer ear, earmuffs can form an air seal to protect the ear canal, and for those who struggle with earplugs fitting are held in place by an adjustable band connecting the two muffs. The muffs will need to fit over the entire ear to work best.
Never stick anything inside your ear canal
It’s important to choose a safe noise protection device that doesn’t go too far into your ear canal, which can damage and lead to a perforated eardrum.
Similarly, the worst thing you can do to remove earwax is stick anything in your ears, such as cotton swabs and other stick-like devices. As we say in the clinic to our patients, ‘nothing smaller than your elbow should go into your ears unless advised by a healthcare professional’.
Not only could this damage your hearing (and I have seen damaged eardrums because of this, and it’s painful), it can injure the ear canal as the skin is very thin and blood vessels are situated very close to the surface. It is a highly counterproductive way of cleaning your ears as it will usually create an uncomfortable build-up by pushing wax and debris further inside your ear canal.
The life cycle of ear wax or ‘cerumen’ is that left alone, it should usually make its way out of the ear, and it certainly doesn’t need a helping hand from cotton buds. If you suffer from wax build-ups, suffer from wax build-ups, the best thing is to have your ears examined and the wax professionally removed.
Avoid loud environments in general
You don’t have to be a jackhammer operator to experience hearing loss. While construction zones are an environment that can regularly put you at risk of hearing damage, it can also happen in any loud environments such as live music events, airports, sports matches etc.
So when you are out of these loud environments, try giving your ears as much rest as possible, which means avoiding blasting loud music in your headphones on your way home from work.
It is important to know that many unions require construction workers to have their hearing tested multiple times each year; therefore, protecting your ears and avoiding intense volumes will help in noise protection.
Suppose you have any concerns in the UK. In that case, you can also read up on the publicly available HSE regulations, particularly the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 and the Noise at Work Regulations 1989.