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Health and Safety, Noise and Prevention


Prevention Versus Remedial Action

As with all aspects of health and safety, prevention is far more preferable than attempting to remedy a situation or process after it has already been implemented. Not only can it be much more difficult - not to mention expensive - to alter a process such as a mechanical production line after it has all been designed and installed, but more importantly than that it can prevent accidents from occurring.

Time taken during the planning and design phase can help in eliminating potential dangers and hazards at this stage before it ever has the chance to go from a theoretical hazard on a drawing board into a reality.



Noise and Other Health & Safety Risks

A worker wearing ear protection and other wearable PPE

The issue of noise and the possible temporary or permanent damage which can be done to an employees' or member of the public's hearing is no different, and should be considered on an equal footing to all other risks to a person which may be brought about by the activities of the business, such as manual handling dangers, the risks from substances which are hazardous to health (coshh), slips, trips and fall potentials... The list of possibilities is extensive which is why those responsible for health and safety need to be comprehensively trained and be a suitable candidate to fulfil such an important and critical role.

It also highlights the need for thorough and ongoing risk assessments to be performed in order to try and determine possible threats to the health and wellbeing of anyone who may be affected before they happen, so that effective remedial steps can be taken to prevent an accident, injury or occupational illness.



Local Councils and Authorities

Not only do management and the directors of an organisation have responsibility for the health and safety of their employees, in conjunction with those employees themselves of course, but local councils and authorities will also frequently play a part in preventing possible health risks and nuisances to local residents and those who may be present in the nearby vicinity.

Noise factors are a particularly common reason for councils and local authorities to get involved. It is unlikely that noise risks affecting a wide area will be damaging to health (hearing), and will more commonly be a nuisance issue from noise which is disturbing local residents or wildlife. The involvement can either be getting a company to stop producing a noise which it is already making, or blocking any proposed activity at the planning stage by denying planning permission for the construction or commencement of a structure or activity which could produce a lot of noise and cause a disturbance.



Some Workplaces Have More Noise Risks Than Others

Whilst every place of work is likely to have the potential for a noise danger which can affect the hearing of a person, there will obviously be some workplaces which have a greatly increased prevalence of noisy machinery and activities, and subsequently a significantly greater chance of a person present at the site suffering damage to hearing from the loud, often prolonged, noises which are being produced close to them.

The most likely industries where damagingly-loud noises may be present include construction sites, heavy industries and those where alarms and sirens are frequently going off to alert employees of a situation which needs dealing with. Although noise considerations need to be considered in risk assessments for all places of work, these ones will need particular attention to be paid to the potential risks which sounds and noise can have on employees and other people who may be present such as site visitors and inspectors.



Try and Eliminate the Hazard Before Issuing Protective Equipment

Not only is prevention through design far more preferable than having to rectify a process after it has been implemented, as stated in the opening paragraph on this page, prevention is far more preferable than simply issuing personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees.

Where noise is concerned, it is therefore important to try and prevent the noise from being created in the first place than just giving workers a set of ear defenders and telling them to get on with it. Many prevention and noise reduction methods exist, including remedial action such as replacing or improving maintenance of machinery and equipment or locating certain machines away from where employees happen to be working if at all possible.

Of course, for many workplaces and industries there will simply be no way of practically eliminating the hazard, and once possible ways have been exhausted the only option left is to issue protective equipment, but attempts to eliminate the hazard should be made first.



Mitigating the Health and Safety Risks from Noise

Noise and damage to hearing is a particularly common workplace health and safety hazard as it is one of those issues which is present in every single place of work in terms of the potential for a loud sound to cause temporary or permanent damage to a person's hearing. As a result it is a topic which is talked about on the syllabus of numerous health and safety courses including the NEBOSH General Certificate, NEBOSH Environmental Certificate and of course various construction site safety courses like the NEBOSH Construction Certificate and SMSTS courses.

Managers need to take appropriate actions to mitigate the health and safety risks from noise to both their employees and members of the public who may be affected by the noise produced by the company's activities. This includes site visitors and nearby residents. Although not a health and safety risk, managers also need to reduce the noise impact upon local wildlife which may be disturbed by the sounds such as nesting birds. In many countries, environmental legislation is in place to achieve this objective.



Mitigating Noise Risks to Employees

As far as their employees are concerned, steps which can be taken to reduce exposure include:


  • Job rotation which allows the employee to carry out some quiet work so that they are not bombarded with sound for the entire duration of their shift.

  • Providing a noise refuge where employees can get away from noise if they need to and can take breaks in the quiet.

As with other health and safety dangers, managers should first try to eliminate the hazard by either removing the process or taking away the danger by purchasing new equipment which no longer creates a hazardous level of sound. Only when these steps are not reasonably practical should protective equipment such as ear defenders be utilised. It is not enough for managers to just issue Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) without first trying to remove the hazard.



Related Noise Pages:



Related Course

Please see below for more information on the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate:

NEBOSH Certificate in Environmental Management

The NEBOSH Environmental Certificate, or NEBOSH National Certificate in Environmental Management to give it its full title, is an environmental health and safety course which is intended to be taken by managers, supervisors and any other employees who are responsible for managing environmental issues at their workplace.

The NEBOSH Environmental Certificate qualification focuses on UK law, so is really only suitable for those who are based and operate within the UK.

Click Here for More Information


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