Safety Watchdog Targets High Noise Industries To Clamp Down On Hearing Protection

Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety has kicked off a new workplace noise intervention – we found out more about what inspectors what will be looking for.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is an entirely preventable permanent, progressive condition with a profound impact on quality of life. NIHL and associated tinnitus can cause sleep loss, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, social isolation and loneliness, strain in relationships, long-term stress, and emotional exhaustion. 

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2019 the economic burden of disabling hearing loss in the UK due to loss of productivity and quality of life in the adult population was estimated to be £25.5 billion each year. This estimate did not include medical costs.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, NIHL constituted about 11% of all non-fatal occupational illnesses in the US, with higher rates of hearing loss reported in the mining, construction, and manufacturing sectors. Equivalent data are currently not available in the UK.

During the first year of the HSE’s workplace noise intervention, inspectors will be targeting high noise industries and assessing duty holders’ management of hearing protection using the acronym ‘CUFF’: 

Is the hearing protection in good order and well maintained?

Are the employees using the hearing protection when needed?

Have the employees fitted their hearing protection properly?

Is the hearing protection correctly specified? Is it over attenuating and causing a safety risk or under attenuating and exposing workers to noise?

'Hearing protection will be the focus in the first instance as it is used across a broad range of industries and creates significant management challenges,' Dr Rachel van Besouw, a specialist inspector in noise and vibration at the HSE, told IOSH magazine. 'However, personal protective equipment should only be used as a last resort. Inspectors will also be advising duty holders to review their noise control actions and adopt a "buy quiet" purchasing and hire policy for tools and machinery. 

'As the workplace noise intervention progresses the focus will shift from individual protection to collective technical and organisational protective measures that eliminate or reduce exposure to noise in the workplace,' she added.

Source: Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Comment: "Hearing protection is the last resort with engineering solutions put into place and with the correct hearing protection rating provided to for personnel that are identified in the specific risk assessment."

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