In the UK alone, an estimated 20,000 people have work-related hearing loss. It can occur in several industries, with construction being a big offender. However, it doesn’t need to be this way – appropriate hearing protection is directly linked to healthy hearing. Here are some useful things you should know about hearing loss in construction.
Globally, annual hearing loss costs come to $750 billion, but the impact on quality of life is the true price; for starters, impaired hearing can result in feelings of isolation and frustration.
It’s not just quality of life – hearing loss can affect work productivity too. Good communication may be hindered, alongside the ability to accurately take instructions on board – both leading to reduced productivity, and potential safety risks.
Without adequate hearing protection, hearing loss can be prominent in the following industries: construction; entertainment and nightlife; manufacturing; agriculture and farming; and the military.
Hearing loss in construction
A construction site is a noisy place, meaning construction workers are subject to loud noise for long periods of time. In fact, 30 million construction workers are exposed to prolonged hazardous noise on a regular basis, and 14% of all construction workers have hearing difficulty because of this.
Sound intensity is measured in units called decibels (dBA). The hearing threshold of the human ear is 0 dBA, yet the average person can hear sounds as low as 10 dBA, such as a leaf falling from a tree. While we are able to hear sound above 140 dBA, this level is painful to our ears.
Any sound at 85 dBA or higher can cause ear damage. The longer you’re exposed to this level, the more it can damage your hearing. Extended exposure to noises at 85 dBA or higher can lead to permanent damage, or worse, hearing loss. Construction workers are at high risk because the equipment they use regularly is well above the 85 dBA level.
Let’s explore how construction noise compares to everyday sounds, the average exposure of common trades, and what construction workers can do to protect their hearing and prevent hearing loss.
Construction workers are exposed to painfully loud equipment for prolonged periods of time. Although 51% of construction workers are exposed to hazardous noise, 31% report not wearing any hearing protection. Permanent hearing loss can never be repaired, so it’s important to be educated on the noise levels that cause ear damage. Take precautions with hearing protection and prevent hearing damage whenever possible.
What you can do
The World Health Organisation recommends the following to prevent hearing loss in construction:
- Provide and/or wear adequate hearing protection. Both earplugs and earmuffs are classed as hearing protection and can reduce the sound level by 5-45 dBA when worn correctly and consistently.
- Take regular hearing check-ups. Hearing loss is an invisible affliction and therefore hard to catch. Frequent hearing checks will pick up the first signs of loss.
- Increase awareness of hearing loss amongst all staff levels.
- Eliminate unnecessary noise wherever possible.
- Be aware of your noise levels outside of work - reduce headphone and TV volume, and wear hearing protection at concerts and nightclubs.
On top of taking these steps, you’ll want to be sure that safety procedures are being followed on the shop floor as set out by OHS. For example, it is easy for workers to ignore or simply forget to wear their earplugs or other PPE. An effective way of remedying this problem is to ask staff to report when they observe it onsite. This can be achieved with a Safety Observations software system that helps OHS professionals identify trends and put in place actions, such as awareness campaigns, to prevent a simple slip-up from becoming an injury in-waiting.
How loud is too loud?
Looking after your hearing is sound advice - once it’s damaged, there’s no going back. Check out this interesting infographic from BigRentz to help put the noise of construction sites into perspective.