Are you subjecting yourself to permanent ear damage without realising?
Working in construction naturally comes with a lot of noise, from the use of loud equipment to conversation amongst the team. But how much can a bit of noise really affect you?
Overexposure to loud noises whilst working can actually have some serious consequences, causing permanent damage to your hearing in the process. When working in such a noisy environment, it’s crucial that you know how to protect yourself.
In this next entry in our “Health & Safety in Construction” series, we’ve looked at noise control and the long terms effects of overexposure to loud sounds.
To view Part 1 of this series, “Working At Height In Construction”, click here. To view Part 2 of this series, “Manual Handling In Construction”, click here. To view Part 3 of this series, “Electrical Safety In Construction”, click here. To view Part 4 of this series, “Harmful Substances In Construction”, click here. To view Part 6 of this series, “Physical & Mental Health In Construction”, click here.
What causes noise on construction sites?
Thanks to the nature of construction work, it’s very easy to be exposed to excessive noise (especially on site).
With the use of heavy machinery and power tools clashing against various materials, it’s going to create a certain level of noise. You would have to look hard to find a tool that creates a pleasant sound when in use, and most of them produce very loud sounds.
According to the HSE, regular use of power tools such as concrete breakers, compactors, sanders, grinders, hammer drills and needle guns is likely to cause damage to your hearing in the long run.
What are the risks?
If you notice workers that are raising their voices when only a few feet away from each other or are struggling to hear in general, they are likely dealing with the effects of hearing loss.
Loss of hearing can be dangerous when working on site, being unable to hear the sounds of any tools or machinery close by, as well as struggling to communicate with other workers. Struggling to hear can alter your perception of how close certain things are, and can be quite disorientating.
When working on site, communication is key so it’s really important to protect your hearing.
One of the most common effects of overexposure to work-related noise is tinnitus. Tinnitus is the sensation of ringing in the ears, and can become permanent after exposure to loud noises. A lot of people have experienced tinnitus after subjecting their ears to loud noises, but the effects can vary from a faint ringing to a painful sound.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 states that there needs to be practises in place to prevent or reduce risks from exposure to noise at work.
If noise levels rise above 80 decibels on site, employers need to assess the risk to worker’s health and provide information and sufficient training on how to protect themselves. Noise levels that exceed 85 dB can be seriously harmful, especially over a long period of time.
Using statistics from the HSE, we found that there were an estimated 23,000 workers with work-related hearing problems from 2015/16 to 2017/18. This is a shocking number, and we need to be doing something about it.
Reducing noise on construction sites
The most effective way of reducing noise is to eliminate the source of the noise, but this isn’t always possible. Noise control should be a big factor when choosing work equipment, and needs to be factored into the design of the workspace.
Another way of reducing the amount of noise being produced is actually regular maintenance to equipment. Effective and regular maintenance of equipment can reduce noise levels, with things like loose bolts or screws usually making the sound even worse.
In order to ensure that equipment is being used properly and efficiently, sufficient training needs to be provided and any member of staff working on these areas needs to be signed off.
The HSE has also included these alternative processes to reduce the amount of noise being produced on site:
Using block splitters instead of cut-off saws.
Bursting or crushing instead of pneumatic drilling.
Boring instead of pile driving.
Limiting vehicle reversing on site (reversing alarms add to the total noise on a site)
Even things as simple as turning off equipment when it’s not in use will go a long way in keeping a quieter work environment.
Practises going forward
It shouldn’t be used as a sole way of reducing noise, but workers definitely need to be wearing the correct PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), including hearing protection. The use of ear protection will greatly reduce the volume of noise going directly into the ear, which will in turn reduce the risk of tinnitus and loss of hearing.
Ear protection needs to be kept to a high standard, checking for damage before use and making sure they are clean and not too tight. It should be noted that workers shouldn’t be wearing ear protectors that completely cut off noise, as this could lead to some dangerous situations due to lack of communication.
If you’ve got areas of a site that heavy use of loud equipment is needed, we recommend marking these areas as high noise areas and making it a requirement for workers to wear hearing protection.
We also recommend having workers go through hearing checks to monitor any potential issues and see how safe it is to continue using loud tools.
As well as this, there needs to be a limit on the amount of time that people are working close to excessive noise, as we can clearly see what the effects could be.
Subjecting yourself to an excessive amount of noise can clearly have some life changing effects, so it’s absolutely crucial that anyone working on a construction project knows and is made aware of the risks that come with overexposure.
If you’d like to read other articles similar to this, check out our other entries in the “Health & Safety in Construction” series.