Your hearing might be far down on your list of PPE priorities as it doesn’t appear to pose an immediate threat to your safety.
But, over time, with prolonged exposure to noise, gradual hearing loss can mount up to cause hearing damage that is both permanent and disabling. Leaving you unable to hear sounds from different volumes and pitches, unable to keep up with conversations and use the telephone.
You can also develop a condition called tinnitus, which is a permanent ringing, whistling, humming or buzzing in the ear. This condition can be quite stressful and distressing for the sufferer and will often lead to lack of sleep.
Whose responsibility is it to protect your ears?
As with most health and safety precautions in the workplace, it is the responsibility of the employer, or yourself if you are self-employed. Employers have a legal responsibility to keep their employees from harm and that includes harm to the hearing.
Failing to protect your employees could lead to very large fines, if your employee were to come to any harm or if inspected by HSE. Luckily, protecting your employees’ ears is fairly simple and will not break the bank.
In this blog we will look a little more closely at your legal duties, identifying the problem and controlling the risk.
Your legal responsibilities
The control of Noise at work regulations 2005 require you as the employer to reduce the risk to your employee’s health and safety to noise at work. Stonemasonry can be a noisy business, especially when you are cutting into the stone, so you need to act to reduce noise exposure and provide your employees with personal hearing protection.
Your legal duties require you to:
- Make sure the legal noise limits are not exceeded.
- Provide and maintain the use of equipment to control the noise
- Provide your employees with the required information, instruction, and training to keep themselves safe.
- Carry out health surveillance of your employees by monitoring their hearing ability.
Identifying the problem
The HSE has provided this handy checklist for your working environment to see if you have a problem with noise in your workplace. If one or more apply, then you need to take measures to reduce the risk.
- Is there a lot of noise in your factory for most of the working day? The noise could relate to noisy roads, vacuum cleaner, drilling, etc
- Do your employees have to raise their voice to carry out a conversation when they’re 2 meters apart?
- Are you using noisy power tools or machinery for more than half an hour each day?
- Is your sector known to have noisy tasks? eg. Construction, demolition, engineering, etc
- Are there any noises due to impacts? Such as hammering, explosives.
A stonemason’s workshop is most likely to be able to tick off all those points, so it is fair to assume your factory contains a noise risk.
The legal limit for noise workers may be exposed to is a maximum of:
- 87 decibels for daily/weekly exposure
- 140 decibels for peak sound pressure
Employers need to not only legally ensure employees are not exposed to noise that exceeds these levels but also ensures to reduce the risk to as low as reasonably practicable.
Controlling the Risk
The next step is to complete a risk assessment to decide the controls required to limit the risk. The HSE requires your risk assessment to include:
- Identification of where there is a risk from noise and who is likely to be affected.
- An estimate of your employees’ exposure to noise. ‘Daily personal noise exposure, or LEP,d, represents a daily noise ‘dose’ – a combination of ‘how loud’ and ‘how long exposed’ for the various noises that a person is exposed to in a working day. You also need to determine the likely peak sound pressure levels, LCpeak, to which workers are exposed.’ Noise exposure calculators are available on the HSE website for this.
- Identify the controls to be used
- Identify any at-risk employees who need to be provided with health surveillance.
In order to comply with the law, you must record the risk assessment findings, the actions taken and the ongoing health surveillance. Your risk assessment should be updated and reviewed with changes such as new employees, new equipment or changes in regulation. It is always advisable to review risk assessments at least every to years to ensure they are still relevant.
There are lots of effective controls you can put in places to reduce the risk of hearing damage, with ear defenders being the most obvious choice. Thankfully, Stonegate sells a variety of different ear defenders to suit your needs and budget.
When selecting which hearing protection is right for you, you should consider the protection level, comfort, hygiene, physical activity restrictions and compatibility with other PPE such as hard hats and eye protection. It is important to ensure that this vital piece of PPE is always in a good condition and they should be replaced if they become too worn or damaged as it may have lost its ability to control the risk effectively.
Other controls can support the use of PPE and further control the risk, these are:
- Rotate employees working on noisy machinery
- Purchase equipment with better noise reduction, for instance, some angle grinders are specifically made to deliver a quieter cut to help you control the risk.
- Use screens, barriers, and noise absorbent materials to try and dampen the sound and reduce the risk
- Limit time spent in noisy areas
- Properly maintain equipment to ensure it is running correctly.
- Ensure your blades are sharp. Blunt blades/drills etc often create a louder cut, sharpening blocks which ensure they remain sharp and create a better cut.
As well as protecting hearing, you should also consider other risks, such as an alert to danger. If you work in a noisy environment and your fire is an alarm can it still be heard? How can you alert your colleagues to imminent danger?
Consider implementing visual signals instead of audible ones. Flashing lights are the most common and most effective use of warning signal for alert in a noisy area.