Ear Protection in the Workplace: Why Is It Necessary?

Health and safety are the utmost importance for businesses in any industry, both with regards to legal expectations and the safeguarding of staff. While many risks are well-known and well-accounted for, there are some that are less well understood – and excessive volume is arguable one of them. Hearing protection is a crucial provision for employees in a number of industries, but which ones, and why?

Ear Protection by Industry

There are a number of industries and specific roles that are widely known to require hearing protection as a regularly worn item of PPE, such as engineering and logistical roles in aviation. The live music industry also comes with an obvious risk of exposure to excessive noise, whether to musicians, live sound engineers or stage technicians.

However, there are many jobs and industries for which hearing protection like ear plugs should be provided.  One prevailing example is that of the hospitality industry, where bars and venues can frequently exceed the decibel threshold for dangerous volume levels – more on which later. It is also a requirement for construction workers carrying out road traffic work to wear earplugs, to protect them from the sound of passing vehicles.

The Physical Effects of Excessive Noise

But why exactly is it important to provide hearing protection to employees? Loud sounds can be extremely dangerous, both to the ears directly and to hearing in general. The ear is a sensitive instrument, and an easy one to damage – not just from extremely loud noises, but also from regular long-term exposure to relatively loud sounds.

According to the RNID, the decibel threshold for dangerous volume levels is 85dB – comparable to heavy road traffic, or the sound of a lawnmower. This is also the threshold for average noise exposure at which hearing protection is legally required to be provided.

Where sounds above 115dB can risk physical damage to the eardrum and middle ear, as a result of large air pressure changes, long-term exposure to sounds about 85dB can cause inner ear issues, and even result in neurological hearing damage in the form of tinnitus.

Mental Health Issues

The medical effect of exposure to excessive volumes does not stop with physical and neurological hearing damage, though. Noise exposure can have an incidental impact on mental health, both as a form of trauma response to loud noise and as a result of suffering physical injury. It is common for those who experience hearing damage as a result of their work to also suffer depression, anxiety and stress as a result of their experience.

Providing Protection

As an employer, it is already incumbent on you to provide your workers with PPE, alongside training in its proper use. Hearing protection, whether defenders or simple ear plugs, is a form of PPE and should be provided as part of your health and safety PPE programme. By training your employees on the importance of hearing damage, you can ensure adherence to the law as well as the improved health and wellbeing of your staff.

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