Employers in the UK are legally bound to take action to prevent their employees from damaging their hearing as a result of workplace noise.
Noise levels at work
With noise-induced hearing loss accounting for one third of all work-related diseases according to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, it is more important than ever to ensure you have adequate ear protection if you work in a noisy environment. This includes sectors you would expect such as construction and manufacturing, loud social settings such as bars, nightclubs and music venues as well as some you wouldn’t expect, for example: children’s nurseries and farms.
If you work in a noisy environment which regularly exceeds 80dB then your employer is obliged to assess the risk to your hearing health and provide you with information. The louder the sound, the less time it takes for noise-induced hearing loss to happen.
You can find out more about workplace noise regulations in the UK from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Steps you can take to avoid damage to your hearing at work:
Establish how noisy your workplace really is
Action on Hearing Loss state that if you need to shout in order to communicate to someone two metres away, your employer is advised to have the noise levels assessed. If the noise is assessed and exceeds 85dB, UK employers must either work to reduce the sound levels or if this isn’t possible, provide adequate ear protection. If you are an employer, the HSE provides information on what you can do to protect your employees from noise.
Protect your ears: what types of ear protection are available?
Employers in the UK are advised by the HSE to provide a selection of ear protectors to allow for staff to choose their preferred method. Some popular types include:
Disposable foam earplugs
Custom moulded earplugs
Semi earplugs on a headband
If your place of work is not deemed to have unsafe noise levels but you want to protect your ears nonetheless, earplugs are an inexpensive solution – it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Ensure you are using ear protection effectively
Employers must ensure staff are aware of how to use the hearing protectors and maintain them properly. Ear defenders must be in a good, clean condition, with undamaged earmuff seals and no unofficial modifications. Compressible earplugs must be soft, pliable and clean.
Recommendations from the HSE on hearing protection include ensuring that protectors do not cut out TOO much noise otherwise users may feel isolated or become unwilling to wear them.
Reducing your risk from occupational noise damage in the long-term
Hearing damage from noise is not only related to how loud the noise is but also the frequency and length of exposure. These are all things to bear in mind when it comes to protecting your hearing at work.
The World Health Organisation advice on deafness and hearing loss prevention not only includes the use of personal protection equipment like earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones, but also reducing your exposure to noise on an ongoing basis.
If you are noticing changes in the quality of your hearing this may be a warning sign that you need to get it professionally tested. You can read more about hearing testing here.