It is incumbent on every business to provide adequate PPE to their employees, as well as adequate training on its use, as per health and safety law in the UK. Finding out exactly what PPE is required by your workers is a difficult but necessary process, achieved by carrying out risk assessments of your workers’ working environments and pinpointing the equipment best served to mitigate those site-specific risks.
Hearing is a complicated field in and of itself, and understanding of hearing and the risks to our auditory health is often patchy amongst the working population – leading to dangerous workplace practices that could put worker health at risk. Just how important is hearing protection, and which workers should be wearing it?
The Misconception of Danger to Hearing
Hearing protection is often reserved for those commonly exposed to dangerously loud noises; air traffic controllers and industrial engineers use ear defenders to protect their hearing from the 115db-plus sounds of jet engines and large-scale machinery alike. However, hearing damage occurs at much lower volumes than those of a jet engine, with lasting damage caused by long-term exposure to sounds of 80dB or louder – equivalent to the sound of a lawnmower, drill or even rush-hour traffic.
Who Should Be Wearing Hearing Protection?
As such, there is a wide variety of jobs and vocations that would require the use of hearing protection to keep workers safe. Obvious candidates include engineers working with machinery – though protection should extend to anyone working in the vicinity of aircraft or loud machinery, even if not directly engaged with said machinery. Musicians and live sound engineers are also obvious candidates, with the regular exposure to loud volumes and especially loud transients from live drum kits.
Perhaps less obviously, hospitality staff such as bartenders should be offered hearing protection; they may be serving drinks in a live music venue, but even without music the sound of a crowded room can exceed 80dB. Roadside construction workers should also have access to ear plugs, in order to save their ears from the deleterious effects of long-term exposure to road noise.
What Type of Hearing Protection Should Workers Use?
For workers regularly exposed to extremely high-volume noise, including air traffic controllers and industrial engineers, over-ear solutions like ear defenders are most effective at defeating the high-energy soundwaves. These solutions are less suited to applications in relatively quieter environments, due to their effectiveness in blocking out all sound; communication can become difficult as a result.
For applications in environments like smaller construction sites and workshops, ear plugs are a better solution. Foam ear plugs mould to fit the worker’s ear snugly, attenuating louder and high-frequency sounds and mitigating the damage done to the ear. Silicone plugs are also available, which can enable better clarity of hearing; these are more commonly used by those for whom hearing and communication is key, such as live sound engineers and musicians. Whichever hearing protection you provide, ensure it is comfortable to wear and that it includes the CE marking to certify that they meet safety requirements.