Back in April some 11 years ago now, The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 came into effect, after having legislation passed which would effectively change the ways employers (and indeed, employees) approached the subject of excessive noise levels experienced in certain working environments.
Its introduction was aimed at bringing the UK more in line with wider-ranging EU Directives concerning this employment law area and was systematically ushered in to provide protection across all industry sectors. So now seems a good time to take a look back and see whether or not the introduction of some all-encompassing measures made a significant difference I the intervening years and essentially achieved its core objectives first outlined (and subsequently ratified) a decade earlier.
Information obtained by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) depicts a generally improved picture on the whole, yet before anyone gets too carried away points to the underlying fact that some 18,000 individuals suffered the effects of deafness, tinnitus and other hearing impairments and conditions instigated by Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) triggered in the workplace during the past year.
However although this is substantially down on the 509,000 people in Britain who were classed as suffering from hearing difficulties caused by exposure to noise at work back in 1997-98 (and pre-The Control of Noise Work Regulations 2005 Act coming into force) - together with supporting additional research claims that suggest the number of claims has dwindled during the course of the 10 years or so since the act was first passed – the problem of work-based hearing damage hasn’t diminished entirely.
Even now there are new cases of industry-based hearing problems being confirmed on a regular basis, despite considerable efforts having been made and put into everyday practice to reduce the proliferation of new cases. And to a large part that’s often down to a number of common mistakes which continue to be made by UK employers when it comes to tackling NIHL head on in a variety of more vulnerable working environments. We have identified 5 key mistakes which can lead to hearing impairment (and substantial damage) if relevant steps to avoid such scenarios from being presented I the workplace aren’t recognised and moreover, complied with.
Mistake 1 – Turning a blind eye (or rather, deaf ear) to the gravity of the situation. While sounding implausible in this day and age (not least on account of this act having been made law), many employers still have a tendency to bury their head in the sand with regards to NIHL. And not only that but together with risking their employee’s health they also put themselves in a position where they could face both HSE prosecution and personal injury claims brought against them by injured parties. On this particular note, there was the recent case of a UK manufacturer which was fined £16,000 (and ordered to pay £11,000 towards the cost of the prosecution) after being found guilty of not taking appropriate measures,
Mistake 2 – Equipment failure. This relates specifically to the apparatus frequented to afford the employer/user accurate readouts and measurements of audible noise within a workplace being substandard or technically inappropriate for the job in hand. It’s imperative that employers seek to invest in the correct level of monitoring equipment (along with hearing protection), as opposed to simply opting for a cheap alternative. This false economising could result in substantial Industrial Deafness Compensation Claims further down the line.
Mistake 3 – Mistakenly/Ill-advisedly facilitating sub-standard measuring equipment. It may well be that a right-minded employer is going to the necessary lengths to instigate noise measuring within a work surround, yet if the monitoring devices are not operating correctly then essentially an employer is contravening their HSE-adhering agreements. Irrespective of best efforts, they could still be breaching best practice guidelines set out by the HSE and in governance to noise in the workplace and ultimately could wind up either under or over-protecting staff against excessive noise.
Mistake 4 – Incorrect calibration of audible range meters. Again, not as obvious (or premeditated as choosing to ignore best practice), however, an employer could easily fall foul of the laws in place if they’re found to have not calibrated the meters properly from the outset, and with a view to officially those all-important determining noise/decibel levels. Understandably the microphones which feature prominently on dedicated noise recording equipment such as the ones used by various industries/sectors are highly sensitive pieces, so it’s vital that its measuring accurately.
Mistake 5 – Not concentrating enough efforts on noise control practices and procedure. As previously, it could be that an employer is discovered to be over-protecting staff from excessive noise and ergo still open to action from the HSE.
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