A recent survey has revealed that workplace noise isn’t regarded as a major concern by many builders.
Yet the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss in New Zealand is fast approaching epidemic proportions, with at least 12 new cases reported every day.
The tragedy of this is that noise-induced hearing loss is almost entirely preventable. But many builders fail to act to ward off future hearing loss, which usually develops slowly and without them being aware it’s happening.
Don’t underestimate the risks
One of the main reasons why noise-induced hearing loss is so common is that ears aren’t good at telling you they’re being damaged.
Strike a thumb with a hammer and the pain is usually severe — and immediate! But ears can feel totally comfortable even while they’re suffering damage.
That’s why it pays to err on the side of caution and take steps to protect hearing, even though the surrounding environment may not sound overly noisy.
How to protect your hearing
Noise should be approached like any other workplace hazard, by applying the three-step hazard management rule:
Eliminate as many sources of noise as possible, eg, replace noisy equipment with quieter models,
If you can’t eliminate a source of noise, then try to isolate the noise it produces, eg, by using sound baffling or dampening material, and
Use hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs, to minimise the impact of any remaining noise that does reach the ears.
Get the right protection
Most earmuffs show the level of noise they will protect against. Ask the retailer about this, to make sure the correct ones are bought for a particular environment.
Also make sure that any earmuffs:
meet approved safety standards,
fit well, and
are comfortable to wear. This is important so there is no temptation to take the earmuffs off when they should be worn.
Builders need to be conscious of what they do outside of work too. This is because ears can only handle a certain amount of noise over a 24-hour period.
Therefore, if a builder has been using a nail gun all day it’s not a good idea to go home and listen to loud music. Try to get some quiet time after work to give the ears a break.
It’s also a good idea to get hearing checked regularly — at least once a year if possible.
More noise reducing tips
Some tips on ways to reduce noise at work include:
rather than bending a piece of metal with a hammer, use pliers instead,
hang equipment from springs to reduce vibration,
put noisy equipment on a separate table with vibration dampers,
use perforated sheet metal as a screen to reduce sound radiation,
replace wide drive belts on machinery with a number of smaller ones, and
avoid positioning sound sources near corners, as the noise will be able to travel further.