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The HSE estimate that around 20,000 people working last year suffered noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL.
Noise cannot only be annoying but also can give long and short-term hearing problems. Short-term exposure to noise can cause all sorts of different problems. This could be something like a gunshot, where suddenly you ears start ringing but then it gets better pretty quick. It may be machinery noise, just short-term exposure but when you leave the site you can still hear the noise or your hearing is bad and it gets worse.
Another example of this may be when you go to a pop concert, and you leave, you’ve had a lot of noise for a short space of time, but your hearing is not great on the way home and the next day you get home and feel a bit of discomfort and it all gets better. Short-term exposure can be a problem, it is something that we do need to address whenever we are looking at any noise protection.
Long-term exposure can cause even bigger problems. If someone is continually exposed to a high level of noise, it can cause damage to the eardrum inside the ear, this can lead to hearing problems and in some cases complete hearing loss. You often hear of people being exposed to noise for a long period of time and their hearing gets worse and worse and by the time they retire they are wearing hearing aids.
What we need to is try and avoid this from happening, so within a workplace environment, we need to take proper control measures. These control measures are laid done after risk assessments have been completed for the company. The risk assessment is completed, problems are identified and then we look at preventative measures.
Ways of preventing noise could be;
- putting soundproofing around a machine so we can cut the noise down
- putting a machine in a completely different room so the noise is a lot less
- installing shields around, this can make it a little less damaging.
- As a final measure if the sound cannot be controlled, wearing ear plugs or ear defenders as PPE.
The most important thing is that we need to look at the long-term risks on people, so if an employee is at any risk of hearing damage, an employer should do something about stopping that noise.
It is not just about the employer. If the employee has decided or found there is a noise problem and they provide you with hearing protection, it is the employee's responsibility to make sure they are wearing the correct equipment that has been given to them. If the employee doesn’t use the equipment and their hearing gets damaged, it can’t really be the employer's fault if they haven’t used the protective equipment.
No matter what you think about wearing hearing protection, if you think it looks silly or it feels silly, please use it. You’ve only got two ears and once you damage those, there is not a lot you can do about it, so always wear protective equipment.