Noise at Work? Hell's Bells!

Amid the excitement of the weekend, seeing Taylor Swift live at Radio One’s Biggest Weekend in Swansea was definitely a highlight. Blasted loud across a field of people, I found myself becoming a fan of someone I’d never before considered. Whether it’s attending a festival of energetic music or working on a noisy construction site surrounded by a cacophony of loud diggers, however, we often forget about the damage that high levels of noise can actually do.

Your ears are delicate little tools - they need to be looked after!

Noise at work is one of the main causes of hearing damage. The Health and Safety Executive state that there are roughly 20,000 employees suffering with work-related hearing problems in the UK and from 2007 to 2016, there were a total of 1,505 claims made – only 10 of those were women.

Many people assume that deafness comes with age and that struggling to hear what people are saying over background noise is just part and parcel of life. But it could be that they were affected by noise in their workplace years ago and didn’t have sufficient protection against it.

So, do we know how loud “loud” is?

Measuring Sound

Normally, we’re aware of how loud something is – we know when we should turn the music down if it’s painfully loud or when we’re in a particularly noisy environment. We know when our ears have had enough when we decide to break away for five minute’s peace.

But to get an exact measurement of the level of sound, we measure it in decibels. Decibel levels range from zero to 190 decibels (dB) – the loudest possible existing sound. Ouch!

Examples of Decibel (dB) Levels

Putting it into perspective allows us to better judge the level of noise we’re exposed to in different environments.

Some examples are as follows:

  • Breathing equates to around 10 decibels.
  • Someone whispering a few meters away takes it up to 40.
  • An average conversation (without dramatic intonation) and it’s already up to 60 dB.
  • Having a row with my partner regarding my missing chocolate bar could go up to around 75 dB.
  • Doing daily chores like mowing the lawn or vacuum cleaning increases sound levels up to 80 or 90 dB.
  • Beeping the car at a negligent driver is around 110 dB.
  • If you’re in a music concert or if you’re jetting off and about to board a plane – noise levels are up to 120 dB.
  • Loud, sharp and painful sounds would be things like gunshots or fireworks at a close distance and levels would be near 150 decibels – this being intolerably loud.

As humans, we can only take so much when it comes to noise. Consistent exposure to high decibel levels can have a severe impact on our hearing, especially without any protection.

Anything over 85 decibels can damage the hairs inside the ear which protect your hearing. For example, if you were exposed to a loud gunshot close by, it’s likely you’d have an immediate impact like a ruptured eardrum.

This can be seriously painful and lead to more long-term problems like tinnitus or acoustic shock syndrome – both of which can affect sleeping patterns and thus lead to psychological issues, as was suggested in the case of Daniel Derricutt.

A sudden and loud noise could also lead to complete hearing loss, which is debilitating and completely life-changing. So if you work in a noisy environment, protection is crucial!

Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005

To protect those working in noisy places, the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 came into force in 2006 after the 1989 regulations were reformed. The levels at which employers must provide hearing protection were lowered.

There are three decibel levels that, once reached, require measures to be taken. The employer has a duty of care to employees - this involves carrying out regular risk assessments accordingly and acting immediately if any concerns are raised.

80 decibels (lower exposure action value)

As an example, a loud classroom can mean teachers (and their students) are often exposed to this level of noise. If the noise in any workplace reaches a level of 80 dB, then the employer must be carrying out regular health and safety checks and risk assessments to make sure staff are not at risk of hearing-related problems. Staff must also be notified and receive training on the matter. Other jobs involving this level of noise include those in the waste and recycling sector, people who work near traffic or operating vehicles, such as in agriculture.

85 decibels (upper exposure action value)

If noise reaches 85 dB in the workplace, the employer is under legal obligation to provide protection, such as ear defenders, to employees. Any protection provided to staff must be of good quality and Hearing Protection Zones should be allocated in industries such as construction, demolition or production.

87 decibels (exposure limit value)

Noise should never exceed this in the workplace, even while wearing hearing protection. If the employer allows workers to be exposed to this without taking the correct measures to protect them, then they are breaching their duty of care. Jobs that reach or exceed this level are ones that involve very loud machinery, like cutting tools, drills, electric saws or welding.

It is also up to you to report any discomfort regarding noise. If you feel it is too noisy in your working environment, don’t be afraid to let your employer know.

If you are provided with hearing protectors, and if at any point they seem faulty or you don’t feel they are protecting you enough, be sure to inform your employer. This way, they can take immediate measures to protect you and other staff – after all, they are unable to fix something they know nothing about.

Sound Advice

It is possible to check decibel levels yourself – there are various free apps you can download that can tell you how loud your surroundings are. Some include – Decibel Sound Meter Pro, Decibel X, Makita Mobile Tools and Smart Meter Tools. If you use them and see that your environment is too loud, talk to your employer straight away.

If you have been affected by noise in your workplace, or think you might have but aren’t sure – give us a call for free at Cute Injury today if you require more information or advice on making an industrial deafness claim.

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