The answer to this question depends. The only work areas that require hearing protection are those in which employees may be exposed to a time-weighted average noise dose of 85 decibels over an 8-hour shift.
If employees are not exposed to the eight-hour time-weighted average sound level (TWA) of 85 dB during an 8-hour shift, there is no requirement for hearing conservation measures, such as wearing hearing protection devices (HPD).
Employee exposures at or above a TWA of 85 dB(A) must be periodically monitored. Records must be kept documenting the monitoring results unless the employer can demonstrate that employee exposures will not exceed a TWA of 80 dB(A) due to all factors, including process, engineering and/or administrative controls if any employees are exposed to noise at or above a TWA of 85dB(A).
Employees may ONLY wear HPDs in work areas exposed to a TWA of 85 dB(A) or greater. Jobs with high noise levels but do not have the required 8-hour average of 85 dB(A) require engineering controls to lower their sound level before hearing protection can be used.
Why is hearing protection important in the workplace?
Hearing loss is a widespread occupational disease resulting from a combination of workplace noise and aging. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) results from the overstimulation of sound-sensitive cells in the inner ear, which can be caused by brief exposures to high-intensity sounds or long-term exposure to moderately loud sounds.
Exposure to such sounds can result in gradual or immediate permanent damage to these cells. When this happens, we lose our ability to hear certain frequencies.
Over time, we may not be able to understand a normal conversation and will have difficulty listening to music – all important aspects of communication and quality of life!
Which regulations are there to protect your hearing at work?
Noise at work causes 1.1 million new cases of hearing loss yearly in the EU alone. The 2004 Noise at Work Regulations introduced a noise exposure limit to protect workers from the risk of NIHL.
This limit is based on an exposure action value (EAV) of 85 dB(A) over an 8-hour working day, which is the same as the International Labour Organization (ILO) limitation period of 90 dB(A).
An exposure action value is exceeded when more than 5% of the measurements taken in any workplace exceed this level over a given time period.
What are HPDs?
Hearing protection devices must be capable of reducing noise exposure by at least 20 decibels for any noise that exceeds or has a daily average of 85 dB(A).
The noise must be reduced to below 80 dB(A) at the ear. To ensure maximum effectiveness, the fit of your HPDs should be carefully selected and fitted by a suitably qualified person.
Both earmuffs and earplugs are equally effective when properly fitted, but they have different characteristics, so you may prefer one over the other for certain applications.
When should HPDs be worn?
They are recommended for any work where employees are exposed to sound levels above 85dB(A), including during periods away from loud sources or between periods of exposure.
They can also be helpful if engineering controls cannot sufficiently reduce noise levels below this level or if there is little opportunity to implement these controls.
HPDs cannot remove all noise, and so are not recommended for use in very loud areas, such as where levels are likely to exceed 115 dB(A). However, they effectively reduce high-level impulsive or impact noise that certain processes may generate.
What If work area noise exceeds 85dBA?
If the 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) of noise is measured at or above 85dB(A), it is advisable to implement engineering and/or administrative controls before using hearing protection.
If these controls cannot reduce noise levels below 80 dB(A), HPDs should be used as a last resort.
Remember: hearing loss may be slow and painless, but it can’t be restored once gone! Follow workplace occupational health and safety rules and always wear the appropriate hearing protection when required.
What the employer do if the work area’s sound level is over 85 dBA?
– Monitor and control noise exposure in accordance with the Noise at Work Regulations (2005).
– Provide suitable and sufficient risk assessment, information, instruction, training, and supervision.
– Make hearing protection available to employees exposed to levels over 85dB(A) when their noise exposure is reduced below this level using HPDs. Employees should provide them when they are required for use by the employer.
– Provide HPDs that are suitable for the noise level and the wearer.
– Make hearing tests available to employees. This can be done by a doctor or nurse or through an audiology service.
– Provide information on the risks of noise exposure and how to reduce these risks.
– Notify any incident where an employee’s hearing has been damaged by noise within 10 days to the enforcing authorities (in Northern Ireland, this is HSA).
In the case of several reports in one year, they will identify whether there is a need for inspection or enforcement action under the Noise at Work Regulations 2005.
Can you wear earplugs during the day?
Yes, you can wear earplugs during the day. You can also wear earmuffs or a combination of both (muffs and plugs). If you do, then follow your employer’s guidelines for doing this safely.
To reduce the risk of infection, plug wearers should clean their hands before handling earplugs and ensure that they are hygienically stored when not in use.
How long can HPDs be worn?
Where noise exposures are above 80 dB(A), the length of time an individual may be required to wear HPDs must not exceed one-third of an 8-hour working day (or 1 hour and 20 minutes) and cannot exceed more than 5 per week (HSE 2001). This is to allow rest periods away from the noise and for conversation.
What should you do if an HPD fails?
There are several reasons why HPDs may fail: they may not be adequately fitted, the wrong type has been selected, or the wearer’s ability to hear speech and warning signals (with amplified sound) has been reduced.
Hearing protection will not be effective if any of these happen, and this needs to be reported immediately to your line manager or supervisor, who can provide further advice. If necessary, earplugs should be replaced with a new pair and muffs re-fitted with new cups.
The article explains what you need to do if the sound level of your work area is over 85 dBA. It says that if the 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) of noise is measured at or above 85dB(A), it is advisable to implement engineering and/or administrative controls before using hearing protection.
If these controls cannot reduce noise levels below 80 dB(A), HPDs should be used as a last resort. The employer must monitor and control noise exposure following the Noise at Work Regulations (2005).
They must provide suitable and sufficient risk assessment, information, instruction, training and supervision.