Occupational Noise and Industrial Deafness

Occupational noise, which is also known as industrial noise, is more than just a nuisance. It is considered to be a threat to the health and safety of employees and is considered to be so serious that there is legislation in place to protect workers from it.

Occupational noise is normally associated with industries which use heavy machinery such as construction, manufacturing and engineering, although it may also be a threat in the entertainment industry where employees are exposed to loud music as sustained exposure to any loud noise can lead to permanent damage to the hearing.

The consequences of excessive exposure to industrial noise can be both temporary and permanent deafness, tinnitus and acoustic shock syndrome. However, it is understood that both stress and high blood pressure can be caused, or worsened, by exposure to loud noises.

Legislation dictates that all employers have a responsibility for the protection of the health and safety of their workers, and health and safety legislation includes a piece of law known as the Control of Noise at Work Regulations. In its most basic terms the law dictates that employers should establish risks posed by occupational noise and identify ways to reduce that risk.

In practice, the law demands that noise surveys are carried out. This involves the use of sound measurement equipment in the first instance, to identify not only the areas of the workplace where high volume is experienced but also to identify those workers who are exposed to high level industrial noise and to identify the length of time of noise exposure.

The results of the noise surveys must then be used to inform the company’s policy on noise control. The law states that where it has been established that worker noise exposure is higher than the legal level, then the employer must take all reasonable steps to reduce that exposure. The ways that this might be done would vary and a professional would be well placed to offer advice to individualised companies. Suggestions might include replacing machinery which produces high noise levels or finding alternative ways of carrying out the necessary work if the existing practices are high risk. Where it is impracticable to make these changes then employers should provide in-depth training and education on the dangers of occupational noise and the ways to limit its damage. This, of course includes provision of ear protectors.

Professional companies loan sound measurement survey equipment and may provide training on the issues associated with occupational noise. Businesses can be forced to pay compensation to employees who suffer harm to their hearing because of their employer’s negligence, so it is in everyone’s interest to comply with legislation.