As part of our Quality Health and Safety program, one thing we haven’t really focused on to date is loud noise or, more specifically, noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). Until now.
And it’s not surprising really, as the effects of NIHL are, if you’ll excuse the pun, silent, and may take years to have any noticeable effect.
Over the last 15 months or so we’ve focused more on extreme hazards and machinery that might inflict serious lacerations or burns or falls from height, and less on the effects on loud noise. Worksafe have published a pile of information on NIHL, so much so that it’s all becoming a bit confusing.
But as part of our ongoing risk assessment, noise is starting to play a major part in our planning, and equipment purchases.
The risks are clear: extended to loud noise above the 85dB threshold can result in permanent hearing loss, especially the ability to hear noise in the higher frequencies. The threshold of 85dB is not loud; it sure isn’t rock concert loud, but it’s not much more than someone speaking very loudly. Consider how much noise an electric drop saw or simple hammering can make.
Yes you can probably restore some of your hearing with some new digital hearing device, but who wants to be the mercy of the micro-battery manufacturers when a few simple initiatives can preserve your hearing?
Amongst all the information on the Worksafe website, we found these three simple concepts:
1. Keep the noise under control.
Simply this means, move the noise away from where you are working. Something as simple as a long hose or some form of sound insulation around a noisy engine component can make a major difference. For example our trailerised water blaster produces a sound wave of about 104 dB at 1 meter. Park the water blaster around the corner and run the extension hose, and you’ll immediately reduce a lot of the risk. There are a number of other simple initiatives you can take to remove yourself (or others) from the noise, such as placing machinery on insulated mounts or isolating noisy machinery in specific enclosures.
2. Keep the noise down
At Upper Hutt Hire we are placing more emphasis on sound and vibration ratings of equipment when buying new gear. We love diesel machinery, but the sad reality is that diesel engines are noisy. We recently purchased a new Hansa 27 HP petrol powered chipper, and had the option of upgrading to a 30 HP air-cooled diesel engine. However the 30 HP Diesel motor was significantly noisier, so it was an easier decision to go with the quieter petrol engine. There’s also a good case for buying or hiring the right tool for the job: a decent piece of equipment will get the job done quicker, limiting your exposure to loud noise.
3. Personal Protective Equipment
While you may be able to reduce your exposure to loud noise, chances are you’ll still be exposed to up to 110 dB of noise (or more). There’s a wide range of protective hearing devices available on the market, and it’s worth spending a bit more to find something that is ‘Class 5’ rated (up to 110 dB) and is comfortable to wear.
We’re now taking noise seriously, and trying to capture the important noise data on our equipment SOP’s. Noise induced Hearing Lose doesn’t sound like fun.