THE CONTEGO GUIDE TO HEARING PROTECTION

INTRODUCTION

Ears must be protected against risks relating to excessive levels of noise in the workplace, including tinnitus, hearing loss and other related medical conditions that could have a permanent impact on quality of life.

The use of hearing protection in the workplace is governed by The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

The failure to provide hearing protection or the appropriate type of hearing protection can lead to serious injuries, both immediate and those only detectable after a prolonged period of time, and can have severe legal (such as loss of hearing claims) and reputational consequences for employers. Therefore, it is essential that your employees are provided with the correct hearing protection.

There is a range of hearing protection available for a variety of applications. The use of hearing protection is controlled by one principal industry safety standard: EN 352. This guide provides an explanation of this standard and its many parts, and the performance you can expect from hearing protection tested to this standard.

Overall, this guide is designed to allow you to make an informed decision about the hearing protection you need to provide for your employees for the tasks that they undertake.

THE ROLE OF RISK ASSESSMENTS IN SELECTING THE CORRECT HEARING PROTECTION

When you are purchasing hearing protection for your workforce, it is recommended that you refer to a recent risk assessment of the workplace environments in which your employees are working.

This risk assessment should include the use of a noise meter to monitor sound levels in the workplace and to determine the level of hearing protection that is required (see the section on selecting the correct workplace hearing protection for more information). If a risk assessment does not exist, one should be carried out.

Taking this step provides a clear understanding of the risks that you need the hearing protection that you choose to protect against. This will allow you to select the appropriate hearing protection and will ensure that you comply with all the relevant health and safety rules and other industry regulations.

AN OVERVIEW OF WORKPLACE HEARING-PROTECTION PRODUCTS

A range of workplace hearing protection is available, including:

  • Standard earmuffs. These earmuffs are to be used as hearing protection, designed to protect from exposure to excessive noise.
  • Standard earplugs. These earplugs are to be used as hearing protection to protect from damaging sounds and noises.
  • Safety helmet-mounted earmuffs. These earmuffs are designed to be worn in environments where head protection is also necessary. They offer the same features as standard earmuffs but with the benefit of attaching directly to a safety helmet.
  • Level-dependent earmuffs. These earmuffs are designed to provide restoration of external sounds while providing attenuation of sounds at elevated levels
  • Active noise-reduction earmuffs. These earmuffs are designed to provide additional attenuation of external sounds using a noise-cancellation circuit
  • Earmuffs with safety-related audio input. These earmuffs are designed to allow your workforce to communicate between each other while providing attenuation of external sound.
  • Entertainment audio earmuffs. These earmuffs allow the wearer to listen to audio entertainment while providing attenuation of external sound.

In addition, a range of communication and sound analysis equipment is available to help employers carry out risk assessments and determine the level of hearing protection that should be provided for employees.

WHEN IS HEARING PROTECTION REQUIRED IN THE WORKPLACE?

It is important to carry out a risk assessment of noise levels in the workplace and noise levels relating to specific jobs to determine the type of hearing protection products required.

If workplace noise levels are above 85 decibels, suitable hearing protection must be supplied and must be worn. At this level, employers are legally responsible for making sure that employees wear the hearing protection that they are provided.

Hearing protection 87-140

The above diagram demonstrates that employees should not be exposed to noise levels in excess of an average 87 decibels across the duration of their shift when wearing hearing protection. The employee should never be exposed to decibels higher than 140 at any given time across their shift when wearing hearing protection.

Hearing protection Upper Action Value

The above diagram demonstrates that employees should not be exposed to noise levels in excess of an average 85 decibels across the duration of their shift and the employee should never be exposed to decibels higher than 137 at any given time. Under these conditions the employer has an obligation to ensure that hearing protection is made available and should be worn.

Hearing protection Lower Action Value

The above diagram demonstrates that employees should not be exposed to noise levels in excess of an average 80 decibels across the duration of their shift and the employee should never be exposed to decibels higher than 135 at any given time. Under these conditions the employer has an obligation to notify the employee of the risk and ensure that hearing protection is made available on request.

KEY INDUSTRY STANDARDS RELATING TO WORKPLACE HEARING PROTECTION

The main industry standard relating to the use of hearing protection in the workplace is EN 352. This standard has 10 parts that relate to different types of hearing protection and requirements relating to this hearing protection. All workplace hearing protection must be certified to this standard to be categorised as such.

In addition, EN 13819 details the physical and acoustic testing methods used to test hearing protection certified according to EN 352, while EN 458 details requirements relating to the choice, use, care and maintenance of workplace hearing protection.

Hearing protection industry standards

WEARING WORKPLACE HEARING PROTECTION

Hearing protection must be worn properly in order to provide effective protection against excessive noise volumes. Hearing protection must be put on or inserted before exposure to an excessive noise environment.

Hearing protection must be fitted and adjusted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. It must fit well and be comfortable to wear, and must be worn at all times when the wearer is in the excessive noise environment.

Earplugs should not be used when there is a risk that the connecting cord could become tangled during use.

MAINTAINING WORKPLACE HEARING PROTECTION

It is important to properly maintain workplace hearing protection and this maintenance must be carried out in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Employers should have a system in place that ensures that employees are aware of the importance of properly maintaining hearing protection and that includes periodic checking of hearing protection to ensure that it is working properly. This system should also allow employees to report damaged, defective or lost hearing protection.

A good stock of hearing protection should always be kept on site.

STORING WORKPLACE HEARING PROTECTION

Hearing protection must be stored in a dry, clean and uncontaminated environment, and in compliance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Storage bags should be provided for all types of protective earmuffs and employees should be encouraged to store their hearing protection with their other personal protective equipment. The provision of specific cleaning materials for hearing protection should also be ensured.

HOW TO SELECT THE CORRECT HEARING PROTECTION PRODUCTS

It is important to supply your employees with the correct workplace hearing protection.

In order to make the right choice, you need to know the level of noise that employees are exposed to and how long they are exposed to it on a daily or weekly basis. This can be worked out using Health and Safety Executive noise-exposure calculators.

The following are examples of causes of workplace noise, their audio level and the impact that this noise can have:

Hearing protection noise levels

After you have calculated the level of noise exposure, the next step is to work out the Single Number Rating (SNR) that is needed in order to comply with The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

Every hearing protection device comes with an SNR – this rating allows you to assess the performance provided by different hearing protection and choose the personal protection equipment that is best suited to the needs of your employees.

The objective is to select hearing protection that reduces the noise level for wearers to between 70 and 80 decibels. Critically, a hearing-protection device should be able to reduce noise to a safe level without blocking all sound. If all sound is blocked out, there is a risk that wearers won’t hear a sound that could keep them safe – e.g. the sound of an approaching vehicle or a warning shout.

Every hearing-protection device should be supplied with an attenuation table that includes information on SNRs and frequency levels relating to the product. The following is an example of an attenuation table supplied with Wearmaster HR555 Disposable Earplugs.

Hearing protection SNR chart

CHOOSING THE APPROPRIATE HEARING PROTECTION FOR YOUR EMPLOYEES

The information contained in this hearing-protection guide is designed to help you choose the right type of hearing-protection products when placing an order for your workforce.

Different tasks require different types of hearing protection and it is important that your employees are provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment. You should always base your choice of hearing protection on the most severe hazard that your employees will face.

By using this information and taking these steps, you will ensure that your company is fully compliant with all the relevant industry standards and that your employees can do their jobs safely, efficiently and to the highest standard.

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The friendly and expert team at Contego Safety Solutions is always on hand to give advice on workplace hearing protection. Contact us now on 0800 122 3323 or sales@contegosafety.co.uk to discuss your needs.

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