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How To Mitigate Excessive Noise and It's Effects

Exposure to excessive noise levels can be severely harmful to your workers’ health, both short and long term. They are apparent in every industry and construction is up there with the highest noise and longest exposure levels.

It is important to know what level of decibels is harmful to you and your workers and the various ways in which you can combat this issue.

In this article we are looking at noise levels in a construction industry context, but the same issues, regulations and protections apply across most industries. The areas we will be talking about are:

The Laws Regarding Noise Levels

In April 2006, the Control of Noise at Work Regulations came into force for the all industries in Great Britain except the music and entertainment industries.

The primary aim of the introduction of these regulations was to ensure that workers’ hearing is protected at all times from excessive noise in the workplace. Too much noise exposure could lead to loss of hearing and potentially suffering from permanent tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

A lot of construction sites are noisy. Really noisy. Full of constant or extreme and sudden loud noises. You will often find that you are raising your voice just to speak to your team, even when they are only two metres away. This is a telltale sign that noise levels on-site can damage health.

Other signs that your site might be too loud for safe working without protection are if you go home and find your hearing is muffled or your ears are ringing.

As a whole, power tools and other vital equipment are designed to stay under the recommended limit of 85 decibels, but you can often find that they can reach up to as many as 115 decibels.

These limits will also be exceeded if your team are using the equipment in a way that the suppliers and manufacturers do not suggest. The surpassing of the recommended limits on power tools and machinery can prove to be a huge catalyst in the result of hearing problems for many construction workers.

The Consequences of Exposure to Excessive Noise

You can work out if your site has excessive or dangerous noise using a simple calculation. Details of how to work out the correct hearing protection can be found here.

Your workers may find that if they are exposed to excessive noise too often over their working life that their quality of life may be hampered in various ways. These include:

  • Conversation becoming increasingly difficult.
  • Sounds like “t’s, d’s and s’s” are difficult to grasp and words can be easily confused.
  • Permanent tinnitus - A constant ringing, buzzing, humming or buzzing in the ear. This condition has to be known to seriously affect sleep and in some cases, may be linked to depression.

Ways to Reduce Noise

There are two main ways to combat the noise levels on-site to protect your team - reduction or complete elimination.

Elimination

One way in which you can totally eliminate the exposure to excessive noise levels is by removing your team from the areas in which the loudest noises are. You can gauge which jobs are the noisiest ones to carry out by undertaking a noise risk assessment.

Observe work activities and measure the exposure time over part of a typical working day. If a particular employee is exposed to noise from more than one tool or work process during the day, you will need to collect information about the likely noise level and exposure time for each tool and overall job.

In addition, use the guidelines that the manufacturers and suppliers provide with each piece of equipment to calculate the potential level of noise that your workers will be exposed to.

Reduction

If it is not possible for you to remove workers from noisy areas, then quieter equipment should be your next move. Remember: you should only look towards hearing protection as a last line of defence.

Use the guidelines and trader advice when selecting your equipment to buy or hire and choose the quietest tools that are most effective for the job. Obviously not every job can be done quietly, but there are usually ways to lower noise levels.

Protection

Hearing protection should only be used when additional protection is required in tandem with another reduction or elimination method.

If hearing protectors are required, aim to provide protection of 85 decibels at the ear. Be careful not to provide excessive protection though as this can cause added dangers. Cutting out too much noise can also increase feelings of isolation and potentially lead to employees becoming frustrated and not opting to wear them.

Provide your staff with a choice of comfortable, hygienic ear defenders or ear plugs. That way, they would be more likely to wear them and can choose which ones suit their role best.

Ensure that your team are all trained in how and when to use ear protectors. This will help when on-boarding new staff and keep everybody as safe as possible.

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