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Noise in the workplace update

Employers should not underestimate the hazard of noise in the workplace.

People generally believe that noise in the workplace is a hazard that was endured by their grandparents, and that it is not a health problem faced by workers today. However, as recently as 2006 the Health and Safety Executive estimated that in excess of 1 million people are at risk of suffering damage to their hearing because of high noise levels where they work.

If there is loud noise in your workplace then you are at risk of suffering permanent hearing loss and also tinnitus. The Noise at Work Regulations 1989 were introduced with the aim of improving safety in workplaces and protecting people from the risk of suffering hearing loss caused by high noise levels.

New regulations came into force in April 2006 known as the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 to update the 1989 Regulations.   Permanent hearing loss caused by high noise levels in the workplace is usually gradual.

It is sometimes the case that people only notice the gradual hearing loss when the hearing loss caused by noise at work combines with naturally occurring hearing loss due to ageing. Often people only notice the gradual reduction in their hearing when friends or family comment about their loss of hearing.

The permanent loss in hearing may not be the only problem, and people may also develop tinnitus, that is, whistling, buzzing, humming or ringing sounds in their ears that can result in health problems.

High noise levels in the workplace is not a health problem that effects only factories and large assembly lines, and hazardous noise levels are experienced in small workshops, yards and wherever powered tools and equipment may be required. However, the Noise Regulations are not complex or difficult to comply with, and provide a framework for effectively dealing with the health risks caused by noise.

If employers fail to protect their workers from the risk of injury to their hearing due to high noise levels the worker will be entitled to pursue a civil claim for compensation against his employer.

It has recently been reported that a Sheffield man who suffered permanent hearing loss was awarded £12000 compensation. The employer was liable to pay the compensation for being in breach of its legal duty of care to protect its employee from the foreseeable risk of injury caused by the high noise levels from the powered tools that he used to do his daily work.

More links:

Deafness researchBritish Deaf Association HSE on noise induced hearing loss NIHLEar protection information (HSE pdf) – MOD deafness claims

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