Protect your employees from noise-induced hearing loss and the result will be a healthier workforce and a more productive business. This simple 4-step programme should help you ensure every individual is offered the protection they need.
Step 1: Identifying and measuring the noise
Let’s start with a few questions about the noise levels where you work:
- Is the noise intrusive for most of the working day? Would you have to leave the room to have a good conversation?
- Do you have to raise your voice to have a normal conversation when you’re less than 2 metres away from the person you’re talking to – even if it’s just for part of the day?
- Do you use noisy powered tools or machinery for over half an hour a day?
- Do you work in any of the following industries: construction, demolition, road repair, woodworking, plastics processing, engineering, textile manufacture, general fabrication, forging, pressing, stamping, paper making, board making, canning, bottling or foundries? These are known to be high noise level environments.
- Are there regular noises caused by impacts, such as: hammering, drop forging, pneumatic impact tools, cartridge-operated tools, detonators or guns?
- Do you have muffled hearing at the end of the day, even if it is better by the next morning?
The simple fact is, you are at risk of hearing damage if the answer to any one of these questions is ‘yes’.
Step 2: Selecting hearing protective equipment
Hearing protection should be issued to employees as a short-term measure while other methods of controlling noise are being developed. You should not use hearing protection as an alternative to controlling noise by engineering and organisational means.
You should always provide your employees with hearing protectors if the noise exposure is between the lower and upper exposure action values. It’s important to identify hearing protection zones where the use of hearing protection is compulsory, and provide training on how to use and care for the hearing protectors.
Aim to get noise levels between 75-80 dBA at the ear, but don’t provide protectors which cut out too much noise as this can cause isolation or lead to an unwillingness to wear them. We’d also suggest that you don’t have a ‘blanket’ approach to hearing protection – better to target its use and only encourage people to wear it when they need to.
You are required to make sure that hearing protection works effectively, fits well and remains in good, clean condition. Choose products which are CE marked in accordance with the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002. If more than one item of PPE is worn at the same time, make sure they can be used together without problem.
If you’d appreciate advice on choosing the right PPE, an expert at 3M will be happy to provide the guidance you need. All you have to do is call the helpline on 0870 60 800 60 (UK) or 1800 320 500 (Ireland).
Step 3: Training considerations
You may want to put someone of authority in charge of issuing hearing protectors and making sure replacements are readily available. This individual should carry out spot checks to see that the rules are being followed and that hearing protection is used properly.
Above all, ensure all managers and supervisors set a good example and wear hearing protection at all times when in hearing protection zones.
Step 4: Validating your hearing protection
Encouraging your workforce to understand the benefits of their hearing protection and how to wear it most effectively results in greater employee engagement. A consultative approach is key in motivating workers and in creating a happier and ultimately more productive environment.
3M E-A-R fit Validation System is simple and accurate and takes just 8 seconds per ear. The system uses F-MIRE (Field Microphone in Real Ear) technology to measure the level of protection. Each worker receives their own personal attenuation rating (PAR) and starts to learn how to increase their protection levels by correctly fitting their earplugs. All this data can be stored to give you a historical record which you can refer to the next time you conduct a test or are considering updating your hearing protection.