Exposure to excessive levels of noise in the workplace can have negative effects on workers’ hearing; these negative effects can be both temporary (acute) and permanent (chronic). If a worker has complained about ‘ringing’ in their ears (also known as tinnitus), then this a potential early warning sign that they are being exposed to an excessive level of noise whilst at work. It would therefore be critical to immediately investigate the workers’ noise exposure, and take steps to reduce their noise exposure if necessary.
In Ireland, occupational noise exposure action and limit values are defined in law in Chapter 1 of Part 5 (Control of Noise at Work) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007. These are as follows:
A noise survey using a calibrated sound meter should therefore be carried out by a competent person to determine whether any of these action levels or limit values are being breached. In order to get a better understanding of the noise levels, both personal monitoring of workers carrying out their normal duties as well as fixed monitoring may be required.
If noise exposure action levels/limit values are being breached, then the hierarchy of controls should be applied in order to reduce noise exposure to as low a level as is reasonably practicable. It may be the case that the equipment is noisier than expected because of a damaged/worn-out part or a lack of maintenance (e.g. lack of lubrication on a bearing), and should be fixed.
Noise exposure could also be reduced by isolating the noisy equipment in a separate room or enclosure. Sound dampening material could be applied in the adjacent areas to the equipment, to reduce the amount of reflected noise. If exposure to the noisy equipment is unavoidable, then as a last resort the provision and use of hearing protection should be considered. However, care should be taken as this could introduce an additional hazard (e.g. makes it more difficult for workers to hear safety critical audible warnings and alarms).
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