Hearing issues due to excessive noise in the workplace are common in the UK. It’s estimated that 11,000 workers from 2019 to 2022 suffered from work-related hearing problems due to exposure to high noise levels.
In job roles that include particularly loud activities such as digging and handling machinery, if workers don’t protect their ears adequately, they can cause severe damage to their long-term hearing.
John Johnstone, head of E-Commerce at Workwear Express, has provided insight into the dangers of not having adequate ear protection when exposed to loud noises and how professionals can minimise the negative effects of particular hearing hazards.
“It is extremely important that when working in an environment where loud noises surround a person, sufficient action is taken to minimise any damage to their hearing – this is for several reasons. Firstly and most importantly, exposure to loud noises at work can cause temporary or permanent damage to hearing.
“This may happen gradually over time if a person is consistently exposed to loud noise or could happen suddenly by extreme noise, such as those caused by impact tools or explosive sources.
“As well as having the potential to cause deafness, being exposed to loud noise while working may also stop a person from being able to do their job properly if the damage to their hearing is substantial enough. For example, suppose noise at work has interfered with their hearing ability. In that case, it will make it more difficult to hear warnings of danger or decrease a person’s awareness of their surroundings, meaning they are more of a safety risk.
“All these reasons and more are why employees must be provided with the right personal protective equipment (PPE) by their employers and follow the rules and measures put in place to minimise hearing loss so they do not put themselves or others at risk.”
How can you protect your hearing if you work around loud noises?
Make sure to wear PPE
To protect yourself from loud noises in the workplace, workers must wear suitable personal protective equipment. Protective equipment that could help look after hearing at work include ear plugs, ear muffs, or semi-insert/canal caps.
As an employer, it is important that the PPE provided gives sufficient protection by meeting the correct level required for the type of work being undertaken. As well as this, hearing protective equipment must also fit correctly.
If you have concerns about the PPE that has been provided, raise the issue with your employer as soon as possible to reduce any long-term damage to your hearing. If PPE meets the manufacturer’s correct legislation, it should be marked with its quality to prove so.
Limit exposure to noise where possible
If you work in a job such as construction, where loud noises are often an inevitable part of the job, employees and employers must try to limit exposure to loud noise for long periods. This could include rotating workers onto different jobs that aren’t as noisy.
If this isn’t practical, however, you could try and block or deaden the sound by adding sound barriers where possible, in addition to hearing PPE, as it will provide an added layer of protection.
Never stick anything inside your ear canal
When considering PPE for the ears, whether as a worker yourself or as an employer, it is important not to wear equipment that goes too far into the ear canal. In addition to this, if you work on a site where you often get dirty, you mustn’t stick anything in your ear canals, such as cotton buds, after a long day at work in an attempt to move any dirt or ear wax, as not only can they damage your eardrum, they can compress earwax and debris and push it further inside your ear canal.
Make sure to undergo regular hearing tests
Suppose you work in a naturally loud environment, such as on a building site or in construction. In that case, many unions will require their employees to get their hearing tested regularly to check for any damage due to work.
However, even if it’s not a requirement of your job if you regularly work around loud noise, such as music or something similar, it is important to check your ears regularly even if you don’t think you need it. Keeping on top of your hearing through regular checkups might help you spot problems early and get assistance where needed.
Ask your employer to carry out a noise survey and risk assessment
If you have followed all the above tips and are still worried or unhappy about the level of noise you are exposed to at work, then speak to your employer and make sure a noise survey and full risk assessment have been carried out.
Employers should do this before supplying employees with PPE so that they can identify who will be most at risk when it comes to noise levels in the workplace, as well as what the level of noise present will be.