The Health Effects of Noise have been well documented for many years with the emphasis being on the physical aspects of hearing damage.
However, in recent years the psychological effects of noise have also been recognised and are now part of the ever expanding area of occupational health which covers conditions such as mental health, workplace stress and violence at work to name but a few.
Considerable concern over the increasing cases of occupational deafness in the UK eventually led to the introduction of the Control of Noise At Work Regulations 1989 and the revised Noise At Work Regulations 2005.
The main requirements of these regulations in order to combat the health effects of noise require the employer to:
> Assess noise levels and keep records.
> Reduce the risk from noise exposure by introducing engineering controls to permanently bring the noise level down, and the provision and maintenance of hearing protection as a last resort.
> Provide employees with information and training.
> If a manufacturer or supplier of hearing protection equipment, then have relavent data available detailing the noise protection level of the equipment.
Industry and occupations worldwide have noise issues, including construction, entertainment, armed forces, police, fire, ambulance services, call centres, manufacturing etc, to name but a few.
However, the emphasis should no longer be to rely solely on the hearing protection devices to block it out, but to introduce engineering controls to reduce the noise at source.
This might for example include relocating the equipment into a dedicated room rather than on a workshop floor, intruducing sound protection screens, or a sound muffler.
Other examples might be to ensure that the equipment is regularly serviced or replaced to keep up with the latest regulations placed on manafacturers.
However, if personalised hearing protection has to be used then it should be a correct fit for the wearer, have suitable protection for the noise level the wearer is subject to, be comfortable to wear so there is little temptation to remove it and be used for periods of short duration or noise exposure.
There are many different types of hearing protection and noise defenders on the market from disposable ear plugs, to basic ear muffs through to ear protection that cancels out the background noise electronically allowing the user to carry on with a relatively normal conversation.
Choose wisely as hearing is easily damaged, often with irreversibly results.