Noise is a danger that is often underestimated in the workplace. To better understand how harmful noise can be in the short and long term, you must understand how the human ear is structured and how our sense of hearing functions.
Experience dictates that many questions tend to arise when new or revised PPE regulations are published: what changes are there? How will I or my business be affected? What deadlines are there and what will it all cost in the end? When it comes to hearing protection and the new regulation (EU) 2016/425, we can give the all-clear: first and foremost, it is manufacturers who must rise to this challenge.
A survey carried out in 2012 shows that about half of Germany’s population is disturbed by traffic noise. Add other sources of noise into the mix such as industrial operations, aircraft, or the lawnmower down the street, and it’s soon clear that noise is a problem everywhere – one that affects society as a whole. This led America’s Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) to declare 29 April International Noise Awareness Day, which is also observed in Germany under the auspices of the German Acoustical Society (DEGA). What better opportunity for us to take a little closer look at the subject of “noise”? Read More
In 2011, insurance companies recognised 6,304 cases of noise-induced hearing impairment as occupational illnesses, which puts it at the top of the list in this category.
This impairment occurs when sound waves have damaged the hair cells lining the inner ear. Once these have died, they cannot be regenerated; so there is no cure if an individual has noise-induced hearing impairment. The severity of the damage very much depends on the noise intensity and length of exposure.
Stress factors for the entire body
Noise not only hinders concentration and potentially causes hearing loss, but can also be a stress factor for the entire body. It can result in changes to biological risk factors such as blood lipids, blood sugar and coagulation, for example. Cardiovascular conditions, including high blood pressure, certain types of heart disease as well as heart attacks, can be triggered through noise exposure.
Those who are affected by hearing loss are initially unable to perceive the higher frequencies, with the perception of medium and lower frequency sounds being impacted later. In order to ensure good hearing in older age, it is important efforts are already made for its protection when young.
Guidance on how this is to be implemented in the workplace is set out in the “Occupational safety directive on noise and vibration”. This states that employers must inform their staff about the dangers of noise exposure if the level exceeds 80 dB(A) and a maximum noise level of 135 dB(C). In these cases, employees must be offered suitable hearing protection. It is obligatory for staff to wear hearing protection if noise exceeds 85 dB(A), and 137 dB(C).
Sources of noise are not only found in manufacturing and workshops with large machinery, but noise is also a common problem in unexpected areas, such as offices.
While communication between staff is essential for some work processes, this can cause undue stress and reduce wellbeing. The greater the number of people in an office, the louder it will be, which is particularly true for large and open-plan offices. Common causes of noise include conversations between colleagues, office equipment such as printers and photocopiers, telephone conversations as well as street noise. Although office noise does not acutely damage hearing, it can be extremely tiring and stressful. As a result, concentration levels may fall, which can have a negative effect on performance as well as attention and responsiveness.
The situation can be improved through technical and organisational measures, for example by ensuring adequate space between work stations to reduce the overall noise in the office. For areas with noise in excess of 85 dB(A), organisational measures alone will not suffice. This is where the “Occupational safety directive on noise and vibration” comes into play and hearing protection must be worn.
A noise analysis must be carried out to identify sources of noise. However, other criteria such as noise duration, compatibility with other PPE products and wearer properties should also be taken in to account.
uvex has a choice of different hearing protection in its range, so it can offer each individual wearer the appropriate hearing protection. A distinction is made between earplugs, earmuffs and otoplastics.
Earplugs (disposable or reusable) are particularly suited to being worn for extended periods and in combination with other PPE. They are also suitable for use in working environments with high temperatures.
Earmuffs are generally worn with a headband, but other models are available that can be attached directly to an industrial safety helmet, should one be needed. Earmuffs are the right option for individuals who have sensitive ear canals, as an alternative to ear plugs.
Otoplastics are tailor-made earplugs which are individually moulded to the shape of the ear canal. Depending on the model, a universal or customised filter can be chosen to provide the optimum level of protection.
Good to know
Perception of noise differs from person to person. Whether a noise is “only” a little uncomfortable or causes lasting damage to hearing is very difficult to assess personally.
While the pain threshold is at around 120 dB(A), hearing can already be damaged at much lower levels of noise exposure.
How loud are your surroundings? Use the uvex Decibel app (only for iOS) to test your workplace.
Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions on the importance of hearing protection and how to prevent damage.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to help.
uvexTREME – the toughest jobs in the world
We all know that every job has its tough side, but there are jobs that are much tougher than we could ever imagine, where people take on the greatest risks and overcome all dangers with passion and courage. As passion and courage alone are not protection enough, uvex safety provides that added extra for everyday work. “Everyday” is not really the right word for this kind of job.
Oil and gas production in South Africa
We turn up the heating, sit down on the sofa, relax, warm up and get comfortable. Considerably less comfortable, however, are those who ensure we always have enough oil and gas.
Offshore drilling rig workers in South Africa must give their all every single day. Coming into contact with hydrogen sulphide, silicon dioxide, oil mist and mercury as well as various other chemicals over the course of their work poses a constant threat to their health. Not to mention the constant risk of explosions and flash fires from the different gases they work with. Bad weather and wind also mean there is always a risk of slipping and falling through to one of the lower levels.
High temperatures and extreme humidity on the drilling rigs are exacerbated by the permanent wetness. Over the course of a long shift, workers are exposed in the daytime to piercing sunlight, which is reflected even more in the large area of water, and at night they must deal with blindingly bright artificial light.
The extremely high level of noise pollution is almost the least of all the evils. Workers often have to climb into confined spaces for maintenance and repair work, where they can only move around on their hands and knees – and even sometimes just on their stomach.
uvex helps make the drilling rigs as safe as possible for those who work there by providing protective eyewear, face masks and gloves. The very least it can do to help those risking their lives out at sea so that we can be warm on the sofa.
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