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Noise at Work. Awareness of Noise and Hearing Protection in the University of Sheffield. Scope of the Problem. In the UK there are over 170,000 people with significant work-related hearing damage 14,200 are serious enough affected to receive disablement benefit. Noise is an ancient problem!.

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Noise at Work

Awareness of Noise and Hearing Protection in the

University of Sheffield

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Scope of the Problem

  • In the UK there are over 170,000 people with significant work-related hearing damage

  • 14,200 are serious enough affected to receive disablement benefit

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Noise is an ancient problem!

  • Roman poets complained about the racket of iron cart-wheels on the cobbles

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What is noise?

  • Unpleasant or unwanted sound

  • When unwanted noise gets loud enough

    • It is unpleasant

    • It is distracting

    • It is tiring & stressful

    • Higher levels cause permanent hearing damage

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Likelihood of Damage

Depends mainly on:

  • Volume (loudness)

  • Frequency (pitch)

  • Exposure time

    Can be work exposure, social exposure or both

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Damage can include:

  • Temporary hearing loss

    • hearing returns after a short period away from noise

  • Permanent hearing loss

    • Permanent damage or destruction of hair cells in the ears.

    • Hearing cannot be restored

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Signs of developing hearing loss

  • Inability to hear soft or high pitched sounds

  • Trouble understanding conversation at a distance or in a crowd

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Others can hear something you can’t

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There is no cure for hearing damage!

  • Normal hearing can never be restored

  • Hearing aids do not restore noise-damaged hearing

  • At best, they help the person a little

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Frequency of Sound

Infra- Normal Ultra-

Sound Sound Sound

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Noise Levels

  • Ear is most sensitive to normal frequency sound

  • The dBA scale takes this into account when measuring noise levels

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Measurement of Noise Loudness is measured in decibels

170 dB Jet airliner

120 dB Riveting hammer

110 dB Shouting loudly

70 dB Street sounds

38 dB Quiet bedroom

This is a logarithmic scale – an increase of 1dB means about 30% more noise

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What Law applies?

  • The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Commencement date April 2006 except for music industry)

  • The Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974

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Risk Assessment

  • Observe procedures

  • Refer to standard data

  • If necessary, measure noise levels

  • Compare with action levels

  • Identify control measures

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Action and Limit Values

  • Lower action value (LAV)

    • 80dBA – 8hrs Peak – 135dBA

  • Upper action value (UAV)

    • 85dBA – 8hrs Peak – 137dBA

  • Exposure limit value (ELV)

    • 87dBA – 8hrs Peak – 140dBA

    • Can take account of hearing protection

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If your average daily exposure is over 80dB(A)

  • The employer must:

    • Inform you of the risks to your hearing from noise and how you can reduce those risks

    • Make hearing protective equipment available

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If your average daily exposure is over 85dB(A)

Your employer must:

  • Try to reduce noise at source

  • Provide hearing protection & insist on its use

  • Identify & sign ear protection zones

  • Conduct noise assessments & keep records of them

  • Provide hearing checks if requested

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If your average daily exposure is over 87dB(A)

  • This is a maximum & must not be exceeded

  • Noise to the ear must be reduced

    • Preferably at source

    • Otherwise by hearing protection

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Control of Noise

  • Preferably eliminate or reduce it at source eg

    • Maintenance & lubrication

    • Anti-vibration mounting

    • Sound absorbing materials

    • Enclosure

    • Reducing exposure time

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Hearing protection

Ear Plugs

  • Must be kept clean (many are single use)

  • Must be put in properly (there is a special technique)

  • Generally comfortable to wear especially in hot weather

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Hearing protection

Canal Caps

  • Like in-ear ear plugs on a headband

  • Pleasant to wear

  • Often do not completely seal in the ear

  • Generally not a good idea for >85dB for prolonged periods

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Hearing protection

Ear Muffs

  • Must fit snugly – one size fits most people

  • Generally very effective if worn properly – beware of glasses

  • Tend to be uncomfortable in hot weather

  • Special types available eg. for wearing safety helmets, for workers near high voltage

  • Can be shared but cleaning routine required

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Hearing protection

  • The effectiveness of hearing protection varies according to type, manufacture and correct wearing.

  • Most will reduce noise at the ear by about 15 - 20dBA

  • Don’t over-protect or warnings may not be audible

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Hearing protection

  • Ensure it is suitable for the job

  • Regular maintenance & record keeping required

  • Home-made protectors don’t work (eg cotton wool)

  • Wear it when you are supposed to – you MUST BY LAW

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Hearing protection

  • Try to limit your time in noisy areas

    • Remember the effect is cumulative

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Hearing protection

Protect your hearing in a social context too eg:

  • Loud music

    • Personal stereos

    • Car entertainment

  • DIY & garden tools

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Don’t take noise for granted!

  • Hearing damage creeps up on you

  • Once it has happened, there is no cure

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Further Advice?

  • Contact Safety Services

  • The Health & Safety Executive have a useful leaflet which can be found: