When should hearing protection be used?
Hearing protection should be issued to employees:
- where extra protection is needed above what has been achieved using noise control;
- 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 technical and organisational means.
What does the law require employers to do?
You are required to:
- provide your employees with hearing protectors if they ask for it and their noise exposure is between the lower and upper exposure action values;
- provide your employees with hearing protectors and make sure they use them properly when their noise exposure exceeds the upper exposure action values;
- identify hearing protection zones, ie areas where the use of hearing protection is compulsory, and mark them with signs if possible;
- provide your employees with training and information on how to use and care for the hearing protectors;
- ensure that the hearing protectors are properly used and maintained.
How can hearing protection be used effectively?
- make sure the protectors give enough protection - aim at least to get below 85 dB at the ear;
- target the use of protectors to the noisy tasks and jobs in a working day;
- select protectors which are suitable for the working environment - consider how comfortable and hygienic they are;
- think about how they will be worn with other protective equipment (eg hard hats, dust masks and eye protection);
- provide a range of protectors so that employees can choose ones which suit them.
- provide protectors which cut out too much noise - this can cause isolation, or lead to an unwillingness to wear them;
- make the use of hearing protectors compulsory where the law doesn't require it;
- have a 'blanket' approach to hearing protection - better to target its use and only encourage people to wear it when they need to.
What about maintenance?
You will need to make sure that hearing protection works effectively and check that:
- it remains in good, clean condition;
- earmuff seals are undamaged;
- the tension of the headbands is not reduced;
- there are no unofficial modifications;
- compressible earplugs are soft, pliable and clean.
What checks do I have to make?
You need to make sure that employees use hearing protection when required to. You may want to:
- include the need to wear hearing protection in your safety policy. Put someone in authority in overall charge of issuing them and making sure replacements are readily available;
- carry out spot checks to see that the rules are being followed and that hearing protection is being used properly. If employees carry on not using it properly you should follow your normal company disciplinary procedures;
- ensure all managers and supervisors set a good example and wear hearing protection at all times when in hearing protection zones;
- ensure only people who need to be there enter hearing protection zones and do not stay longer than they need to.