Director Briefings Part 11A: Noise at Work

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In this additional briefing for Directors, as part of our series, noise expert Teli Chinelis and health and safety solicitor Sue Dearden consider industrial deafness. Not just the province of heavy industry, hearing loss is a significant issue currently affecting more than 10 million people in the UK. It is estimated that by 2031 one fifth of the population will have hearing loss in the UK, and the World Health Organisation has predicted it will be a top ten disease burden by then. The insurance industry pays approximately £70m every year to settle hearing loss claims and breach of The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 is also a criminal offence. Teli and Sue talk about what causes hearing loss and steer directors towards practical considerations for avoiding and tackling this issue in your organisation.

Noise at Work Vodcast Transcript

This toolbox talk for Directors is aimed at raising awareness of the risk of hearing damage and loss arising from noise in the workplace, and what you can do to check that your business is compliant in this area.

It is very easy to make assumptions about levels of noise being at a reasonable level, but the issues are not confined to heavy industry. Even moderate noise has a cumulative impact.

We have hair cells in the cochlea part of our ears which move around in response to sound waves to communicate sound to the brain. They get damaged if bent over too much by a very loud noise or by frequently repeated lower-level noise. And once damaged, there is no cure. The hair cells don’t repair. They don’t grow back. The loss of these hair cells causes deafness.  

Not only can prolonged exposure to noise result in irreversible hearing damage, but it can also cause or contribute to safety risks, for example, if employees fail to hear warning signals, and the consequences of failing to tackle noise can damage businesses financially.

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 require employers to eliminate or minimise risks from noise, so far as is reasonably practicable, with the aim of preventing workers suffering from hearing damage and other harm.

As with many occupational diseases, hearing damage develops gradually over many years and the consequences of poor noise risk management, i.e. employees developing noise-induced hearing loss may not come to light for many years, by which time it is too late because noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible.

Equally, action taken to control risks may not show an immediate benefit, such as might be the case with a safety-related issue that can be tracked with accident statistics.

Some organisations may find this to be a barrier to identifying any poor practice in managing noise risks, perhaps continuing to rely on personal hearing protection rather than implementing practical and sustainable controls of noise risks.

The law requires that engineering, technical and organisational solutions are in place, so far as is reasonably practicable.

A noise risk assessment should be completed and kept up to date; this doesn’t need to be a complex document, and there is no requirement to even make noise measurements, although these will be helpful in many cases. The important aspects to remember are that you need to:

  • Identify and analyse where there are noise problems and who might be affected;
  • Identify possible solutions;
  • Put a plan in place to carry out the actions identified.

It is a legal requirement to record the significant findings of the risk assessment, and the actions taken or intended to be taken. All these relevant documents ought to be retained to demonstrate compliance now and in the future.

A well-managed noise management programme does not have to be expensive or complicated and can add real value to a business concerning culture and reputation, as well as demonstrating legal compliance and defending potential future claims.

When noise in the workplace puts people at risk, apart from compensation claims, you also have the risk of criminal prosecution. While Teli emphasised the need to take reasonably practicable measures to protect against hearing loss when you can’t prevent the exposure if you do face prosecution remember that the onus of proving you have taken all reasonably practicable measures is on you. 

So as a Director one of the things you can do is to check that noise is on the radar. That risk assessments, and training records about use of hearing protection are being kept – and ensure that there is a periodical re-evaluation of what is being done to protect hearing as technologies do change and you may find you can now eliminate rather than just continue to try and manage risk. Make that re-evaluation part of the corporate agenda.

If you have any questions about noise at work, noise levels, noise reduction and noise management please contact our established noise & vibration team:

Teli.chinelis@finch-consulting.com

sue.hewitt@finch-consulting.com

chris.nelson@finch-consulting.com

timothy.ward@finch-consulting.com

peter.milner@finch-consulting.com

01530 412777

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