Increased awareness of Health & Safety legislation, and greater individual responsibility within the workplace, are two key factors helping to protect employees avoid the risk of illness, injury and fatality on a daily basis, whatever the circumstances.
Traditional heavy industries in manufacturing, engineering, fabrication, textile factories and assembly plants are all areas where industrial deafness has been a common and enduring problem for many thousands of workers. Over the years, conditions have improved substantially, not least as a result of implementing safer working practices and enforcing legislation.
Often the publicised court cases where negligent employers pay out record sums of compensation to claimants who have been exposed to dangerous high levels of noise, which led to noise induced hearing loss, have helped to raise awareness with both company employers and employees.
Simple, straightforward working procedures, such as the wearing of ear defenders give an average of 30 dB noise reduction if worn continuously during an 8 hour workday. Even earplugs help to reduce the risk of hearing damage.
Therefore, it is disconcerting to learn that the employees themselves can sometimes be their own worst enemy. Sometimes, they have argued that the wearing of ear defenders might reduce their ability to hear the noises that signify an improperly functioning machine. This is despite the fact that the ears of most workers readily adjust and will still be able to detect problems with machinery.
Studies have shown that half of all workers who wear some form of hearing protection receive at least 50 per cent less noise reduction potential. This diminished protection occurs because these devices are either not worn continuously while exposed to noise, or they do not fit properly.
If ear protection is removed for just one hour while exposed to noise, an ear defender would provide only an average of 9 dB of protection during 8 hours, exposing the worker to 1,000 times more noise than if earplugs or muffs had been worn.
Even if earplugs and/or earmuffs are worn continuously while exposed to noise, protection is seriously compromised if there is an incomplete air seal between the hearing protector and the skin. When workers use ordinary hearing protectors, the plugged ear effect of hearing one’s voice as louder and deeper is mistaken as a sign that the hearing protectors are properly positioned.
Hearing protectors do slightly reduce the ability to understand normal conversation – but essentially, for those already suffering damaged hearing or poor comprehension of language. It is essential that they too, should always wear ear defenders, earplugs or earmuffs to prevent further hearing loss damage.