When you’re in charge of workers at a busy place, such as factory or construction site, you’ll often witness people a few yards apart shouting to each other, trying to be heard over the general noise. It may be a common scene, but a high level of exposure to noise might pose a concern to your employees. Anybody trying to focus on their tasks in a nearby office might find it hard to concentrate, while those directly exposed could be at risk for hearing loss and other health issues.
Here’s what you can do to determine if your workplace has noise pollution issues – and how to control them.
Assess the level of risk
It’s not difficult to tell whether your work environment is noisy or not. And if the employees at your workplace conduct activities which depend heavily on verbal communications to avoid dangerous situations, or deal with heavy equipment or a high volume of traffic, then a proper risk assessment study needs to be conducted.
You, or other competent individuals within your company, may draw up the risk assessment; you may also consult with third party professionals. It must include an estimate of noise level based on your workplace, similar situations, or machinery information; indicate the specific risks to health and safety, and identify employees’ exposure, and determine any measures necessary to ensure a safe workplace.
Reduce or control risks
If the risk assessment study concludes that action needs to be taken to reduce the noise levels in your workplace, begin by reducing or controlling the source of the noise. This can be accomplished through an equipment upgrade, for example; the latest heavy-duty power tools often have superior low-noise performance, among other features.
An improved workplace layout can also help to control the noise – creating barriers of noise-absorbing materials can limit the exposure of all employees other than those directly working at a noisy site. You can also stagger worker’s hours and designate certain areas as off-limits, further reducing the exposure of many employees.
Although it’s best to control noise from the organisation level, sometimes your personnel can’t avoid exposure to the source. Those working directly at the site of construction, or operating heavy equipment, for instance, must be issued appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Industrial earplugs can be custom-made to suit both the level of noise at your workplace and the individual employee’s fit and comfort.
Inform and train
To ensure that measures for workplace safety will be effective, see to it that your employees receive the necessary information regarding the health risks, sources of noise, and the control measures being implemented. For those working in the areas with the highest noise levels, you may want to oversee a short training program so that they can be alert to issues or defects in the noise controls, and report them immediately.
Monitor and review
Employees who are regularly exposed to high noise levels, and those with existing conditions of hearing loss or sensitivity, must be covered by a health surveillance plan. This involves regular hearing checks with a qualified professional. Based on the results, as well as other observations from your workplace, you can conduct scheduled reviews of your noise controls. Keep in mind that any changes to your equipment or practices may also require a renewed risk assessment.
In a busy workplace, the level of noise can often be dismissed as part of the job. Don’t make that mistake – take the appropriate measures to control noise and maintain a safe and healthy working environment.