Noise-induced hearing loss
What you need to know
Hearing loss caused by work is preventable but once hearing has gone it won't come back.
Exposure to high noise levels can cause permanent hearing damage, often without the sufferer being aware of it until it is too late. It may lead to tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or deafness.
Noise can also be a safety hazard at work, interfering with communication and making warnings harder to hear.
We estimate that more than 2 million people in Great Britain exposed to unacceptable levels of noise at work. Noise-induced hearing loss is the second most common reason for employers' liability insurance claims for occupational health.
Exposure to many different sources of noise (eg harvesters, chainsaws, powered hand tools, wood chippers) has a cumulative effect and can cause damage, even if a worker is only exposed to a single source for short periods of time.
Is there a noise problem in tree work?
You have a noise problem at work if you can answer 'yes' to any of these questions
- Is the noise intrusive - like forest harvesting and felling, a chainsaw or a wood chipper - for most of the working day?
- Do you have to raise your voice to have a normal conversation when about 2 metre apart for at least part of the day?
- Do you use noisy powered tools or machinery for more half an hour a day?
Workers are also at risk if they have muffled hearing at the end of the day, even if it is better by the next morning. There is no need for hearing to be damaged - under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 employers have a duty to protect workers and take steps to reduce the risk.
What employers need to do
Find out what levels of noise workers are exposed to and assess the risk to their hearing. Depending on the levels of noise exposure:
- Control the noise exposure by engineering it out, eg fitting a silencer
- Change the work pattern or the layout of the workplace - not just rely on hearing protectors
- Provide the quietest machinery that will do the job
- Issue hearing protection (a selection, so workers can choose a type that suits them)
- Send workers for regular hearing checks
- Provide training and information
- Consult workers and their representatives.
What workers need to do
Cooperate. Help your employer to do what is needed to protect your hearing. Use properly any noise control devices and follow any working methods that are put in place.
Wear any hearing protection you are given. Wear it properly (you should be trained how to do this), and wear it all the time you are doing noisy work, and when you are in hearing protection areas. Taking it off even for a short while means that your hearing could still be damaged.
Look after your hearing protection. Your employer should tell you how to look after it – ask if you don't understand what you need to do.
Report any problems with your hearing protection or noise control devices straight away. Let your employer or safety representative know.
Report any ear or hearing trouble straight away. If you have any ear trouble, let your employer know.
Hearing protection such as earmuffs and earplugs is the last line of defence against damage, so check:
Earmuffs should totally cover your ears, fit tightly and there are no gaps around the seals. Don't let hair, jewellery, glasses, or hats interfere with the seal. Try and keep the seals and the insides clean. Don't stretch the headband too much - make sure it keeps its tension.
Earplugs can be difficult to fit - practise fitting them and get help if you are having trouble.
Often they can look like they are fitted properly, but they may not be giving much protection. Clean your hands before you fit earplugs, and don't share them. Some types you use only once, others can be re-used and even washed - make sure you know which type you have.
Semi-inserts/caps: Follow the advice for earplugs and make sure any headband keeps its tension.