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Noise in the working enviroment

What is a Decibel?

The decibel (very often abbreviated to dB) is a unit of measurement used to express the ratio of two values. It is often attributed to the level of sound produced by almost everything including electronic devices such as TV’s, speech, jet engines and power tool etc.

In 2005 a new piece of legislation was brought into play called the ‘Control of Noise at Work Regulation 2005’. It placed a direct responsibility on the employer within Great Britain to actively reduce the risk of noise to their employees by controlling the amount of noise they are exposed to. The act was implemented throughout most industries in April 2007 with the music & entertainment sector receiving the policy just over a year later.

Noise within the workplace can cause serious communication problems as loud or intrusive volumes of noise will interfere with potential warnings such as fire alarms. The loud noise can also make people less aware of their surroundings. All these issues added together can lead to serious safety hazards, including the risk of death.

Employers are expected to provide their workers with full training so they have the ability to understand the risk they could potentially be exposed to.

What your employer should tell you about noise in the work place

When working within an environment that produces a lot of noise or noise that may cause you harm there are a few basic things your employer must tell you about your job:

  • The risk of noise exposure 
  • What risk this poses to your hearing
  • What is being done to control these risks
  • Where available hearing protection is kept 
  • How to identify and report potential defects in noise-controlled equipment and / or hearing protection

The Regulations

The purpose of the Noise Regulation act 2005 was to ensure that a workers hearing is protected within the workplace from excessive noise that can cause damage to the eardrum leading to conditions such as tinnitus (a permanent ringing in the ears).

Replacing the ‘Nosie at work Regulations 1989’ the new 2005 act use similar European Union directives to provide basic laws throughout the EU that help protect workers.

The level at which employers MUST provide efficient hearing protection and ‘hearing protection zones’ has now been set at 85 decibels (around the sound of an average factory and could possibly cause damage if exposed for 8 hours). The level at which an employer MUST carry out a full assessment of the risk to a workers health and provide them with the correct information and adequate training has now been set at 80 decibels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noise Comparison Chart

Noise Source

Decibel Level

Possible Effect

Loudest sound that can occur without distortion

194

 

Jet take off at 25 metres

150

Eardrum rupture

Aircraft carrier deck

140

Short term exposure can cause permanent damage - Loudest recommended exposure WITH hearing protection

Thunderclap, chainsaw or oxygen torch

120

Painful

Riveting machine or live rock music

108 - 114

Average human pain threshold

Power lawn mower or jackhammer

100

Serious damage if exposed for 8 hours

Food blender or average factory

80 - 88

Possible damage if exposed for 8 hours

Vacuum cleaner or TV audio

70 - 76

Can be annoying to some people

Conversation in a restaurant

60

Fairly quiet

Conversation at home

50

Limited sound

Library

40

Equivalent to a bird call

Rustling leaves or whispering

20

Audible

Breathing

10

Barely audible

Do you think you have a noise problem in your work place?

If so you will more than likely need to bring your noise levels under control if any of the following aspects apply to your working environment:

  • Is the noise level intrusive (this would be comparative to a busy street, crowded restaurant or vacuum cleaner) for most of the working day?
  • Do your employees or co-workers need to speak significantly louder to carry out a simple conversation when no more than two metres away?
  • Do you or your employees/co-workers use noisy (above 97 dB) power tools or machinery for more than 30 minutes every day?
  • Is your sector of work considered loud? Examples would be road repair, construction or demolition
  • Are any noises in your workplace created via impact processes such as hammering, drop forging or pneumatic power tools? Or explosive origins such as cartridge operated tools and detonators?

If you have said yes to any of the above, we would recommend you look at ways to reduce noise levels.

In 2006 a factory in the north of England received a fine of £16,000 as it was deemed they had failed in their duty to sufficiently protect their workers. The daily exposure rate for the workers was extremely high (consistent levels roughly of that of a chainsaw, or 120 dB).

What are the signs, symptoms and effects of Noise Induced Hearing Loss?

The main issue with NIHL is that the symptoms are hard to self-diagnose and are mostly noticed by others who you spend time with.

The most common signs of NIHL are some of the following:

  • Conversations become difficult or impossible to hear.
  • Your close family, friends and or / work colleagues complain you have audio settings at high levels on devices such as TV’s and radios.
  • You begin to have trouble using the telephone and resort to heavily pressing the device against your ear in an attempt to hear.
  • You start to struggle to hear sounds with higher treble such as ‘T’, ‘D’ and ‘S’ and so you begin to confuse similar words.

The most common sign, symptom and effect of NIHL is a condition called ‘Tinnitus’. Tinnitus is most commonly described as a ringing, whistling, buzzing or humming within the ears.

Tinnitus has no set criteria for how it will affect you; some people have soft sound whilst others have louder variants. The same goes for the pitch of the tinnitus, with people experiencing high or low pitched sounds. The same model applied for the ears which experience tinnitus, it can develop in just one or both of your ears. Tinnitus sometime incorrectly referred to as a disease but it is actually a sign of an issue within your auditory system. Tinnitus is mainly caused excessive and intrusive noise to the ears but can also be caused by high blood pressure, a block piece of ear wax and even sinus infections.

Why tinnitus happens is still up for debate with some scientists believing that to cope with the loss of sensory hair cells the brains neural circuit increase your sensitivity to sound, but this is just conjecture.

Unless your hearing loss is caused via a large sudden assault such as automatic weapons fire or explosions, the majority of general hearing loss happens gradually over a prolonged period. By the time you notice an issue it’s probably too late!

What are the consequences of poor sound protection?

To put it simply, you could lose your ability to hear!

Noise Induced Hearing Loss is non-reversible, once the damage has been done that’s it but to fully understand how NIHL occurs we first need to understand how human hear:

  1. Sound waves enter your outer ear travel through a very narrow passage; this is called your ear canal, which eventually leads to your eardrum.
  2. Your eardrum then vibrates and sends the corresponding vibrations into three small bones called the malleus, incus and stapes.
  3. The bones within the ‘middle ear’ convert the vibration within the air into fluid vibrations within the cochlea of the ‘inner ear’. This chamber is shaped like a snail and filled with fluid. The cochlea is split into an ‘upper’ and lower’ section via an elastic piece of tissue called the basilar membrane. Running the full length of the cochlea it serves as a base from which hearing structure sit.
  4. Once the airways within the cochlea begin to make the fluid ripple, waves form along the basilar membrane. Hair cells ride along this way. The Hair cells are sensory cells that sit on top of the basilar membrane.
  5. As the hair cells travel up and down microscopic hair-like objects called stereocilia that are located on top of the cells collide against an overlying structure which makes them bend. This bending motion cause’s pore like channels to form at the tip of the sterocilia. Chemicals then rush into the cell creating an electrical signal.
  6. The auditory nerves then carry these signals to the brain which then interprets the electrical signal into sound that we understand.

With the majority of NIHL cases the damage and eventual death of these ‘hair cells’ is what causes people to go deaf and since human hair cells don’t grow back, unlike birds and amphibians, once they're gone, they’re gone for good and the damage is done.

What type of hearing protection do you provide?

Here at Hire Station we offer 2 main types of hearing protection for you to choose from and are readily available in all of our branches and online tool shop.

The first are expanding ear plugs. Constructed from durable and lightweight foam these ear plugs can fit almost any ear canal to help provide the maximum amount of available protection. These are the cheapest versions of any form of ear protection you'll use.

Our expandable foam ear plugs are simple to use:

  1. First remove the ear plugs from the packet and make a quick visual inspection to make sure the plugs are not damaged.
  2. Next place the plug in between your thumb and index finger.
  3. Then roll the plug back and forth between your two fingers. As you do this the motion will collapse the ear plug to about the same thickness as a cotton bud.
  4. Before the plug can re-expand to its pre-rolled form place the plug into your ear making sure it sits just inside the canal.
  5. Gently release the plug and the foam will re-expand ‘plugging’ the gap into your ear canal and limiting the noise.

Repeat these steps for the other plug and away you go!

To remove the plug simply pinch the most outer section of the plug and simply plug away, the ear plug will easily come away without any discomfort.

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The second form of ear protection we off are standard ear defenders. The units are constructed from a lightweight and semi-flexible polymer plastic.

The semi-flexible designs allows the ear defenders to expand to fit almost any sized and shaped skull whilst the inward pressure of the frame keeps the sound reducing domes pressed tightly against the side of your head.

The defenders also include an adjustment system to help make the protection fit exactly. To use this to its fully potential you should:

  1. Slightly open the ear defenders width ways, place the dome on top of your head in line with your ears.
  2. Next pull down on the ear domes until they sit comfortably on your ears.

Once you’ve let go you should feel the whole unit tighten up help to fully protect your ears.

Our ear defenders also conform to EN352-1 standards. This is designated for ear muffs and states the equipment must feature directional orientation such as left / right or top.

On top of this our ear plugs fully conform to EN 352-2 standards. This means the plugs must be supplied with details such regarding fitting instructions, left to right orientation if necessary or whether they are disposable or not.

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