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|Year : 1999 | Volume
| Issue : 3 | Page : 7--10
RNID's noise at work campaign
Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), 19-23 Featherstone Street, London EC1Y 8SL, United Kingdom
Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), 19-23 Featherstone Street, London EC1Y 8SL
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Mangan M. RNID's noise at work campaign.Noise Health 1999;1:7-10
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Mangan M. RNID's noise at work campaign. Noise Health [serial online] 1999 [cited 2020 Feb 29 ];1:7-10
Available from: http://www.noiseandhealth.org/text.asp?1999/1/3/7/31718
The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) is the largest charity representing the needs of 8.7 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK. As a membership charity, RNID aims to achieve a radically better quality of life for deaf and hard of hearing people and does this by campaigning and lobbying vigorously, by raising awareness of deafness and hearing loss, by providing services and through social, medical and technical research.
RNID's latest campaign focuses on noise in the workplace. This is an area of increasing concern and RNID is keen to drive home the message to employers that they should take all reasonable steps towards preventing hearing loss and tinnitus as a result of noise damage.
One of the aims is to raise awareness of the industry regulations that exist to protect employees - the Noise at Work Regulations 1989 - and encourage greater compliance to these in traditionally noisy industries. One particular area the campaign will highlight is the new dangers of noise in the workplace. These dangers include people whose 'noise dose' is received through headphones such as call centre workers. RNID's research 1 shows that people working in these industries are largely unaware of the industry regulations relating to noise and employers appear not to be taking steps to inform or protect their workforce.
The findings of the survey suggest that the hearing of many call centre workers could be being damaged by exposure to noise at work. Of the respondents working in call centres, 41% reported having to raise their voice while speaking at a distance of around 2m, an indication of raised noise levels in the workplace. In addition, more than a quarter said there were sometimes sudden loud bursts of noise, and nearly half of those who said that they listened to loud sounds through headphones or ear pieces did so all, or almost all the time.
One third of call centre workers in the survey, indicated that they were being exposed to hazardous levels of noise and were suffering from ringing in their ears, or dullness of hearing after work. And 39% were concerned that their hearing was being damaged as a result of being exposed to noise at work. Call centre employers, on the other hand, do not appear to be responding to the problem.
Only one call centre worker had received any information or training about the risks of noise at work, and only five had heard of the Noise at Work Regulations 1989. None had been provided with hearing tests by their employer, even though several call centre workers in the survey thought their hearing had deteriorated since beginning their employment.
Nearly a quarter of respondents 2 in the survey listened to uncomfortably loud sounds for more than four hours a day, and this increased to a third of shopfloor workers. Almost one in five construction workers and more than one in ten workers in the manufacturing sector and those working on oil rigs reported that they were exposed to uncomfortably loud sound for more than eight hours a day.
Many workers concerned about hearing loss are not taking up the issue with their employer. While nearly half the respondents said that they were concerned that noise levels at work were affecting their hearing, only a quarter had raised their concerns with anyone, and only two-thirds of these had approached their employer with their concerns.
This finding is worrying, since the majority of respondents (around 75%) worked in workplaces where there was a safety officer and around the same proportion worked in workplaces where there was a trade union representative. In almost all cases, respondents said they knew how to contact the safety officer or trade union representative. The survey results are therefore likely to reflect better practice than that in UK workplaces as a whole.
Young workers appeared to be particularly reluctant to raise their concerns. While 36% said that they were concerned about hearing loss, only 14% said they had raised their concerns with anyone.
Even in those areas where the risks of hearing loss from exposure to high levels of noise are well established, the results of the survey suggest that many employers are not complying with health and safety law, nor are they following Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance on noise control and the prevention of hearing loss.
Responses were analysed from a group of 170 subjects who indicated the following:
that they were exposed to hazardous levels of noise at work;that they were concerned that noise levels at work may be affecting their hearing; andthat they experienced either dullness of hearing or ringing or rushing noises in their ears or head after work.
An analysis was carried out to find out what action their employers had taken to prevent their hearing being damaged. This found:
Only 54% reported that an assessment of noise levels in the workplace had been carried out by their employer; although a further 29% reported that they did not know if an assessment had been carried out or not;Thirty percent of these respondents had not heard of the Noise at Work Regulations and this increased to 88% of call centre workers;More than half (56%) had not received any information or training about the risks of noise at work from their employer. This increased to around 90% of call centre workers;More than half (56%) had not had a hearing test arranged by their employer; andTwo-thirds said that no noise control measures has been put into place, even though the same proportion reported that they had been provided with ear protection.
This last finding indicates that employers are not adhering to HSE advice which states: "You should reduce and control noise as far as is reasonably practicable before issuing ear protection as a means of safeguarding employees' hearing".
Nearly one in five (18%) of workers in the survey who were provided with personal ear protection said that they did not wear it. And even where ear protection zones were in operation, where the wearing of ear protection is compulsory because of high noise levels, a third of respondents (29%) in workplaces with ear protection zones said that ear protection was not always worn in these zones.
Over a quarter of the 245 workers in the survey who said they wore ear protection said that they had problems using it. Most of these said that this was related to discomfort (72%), with 44% reporting that it interfered with the ability to do the job.
RNID's Noise at Work Campaign will put pressure on the Health and Safety Executive to enforce the Noise at Work regulations to ensure people do not suffer unnecessary hearing loss or tinnitus. RNID will encourage the HSE to mount an awareness drive to convey the message that the dangers of noise in the workplace are changing, and that adherence to the regulations is more important now than ever. Increased monitoring or a more effective monitoring system by the Health and Safety Executive is needed.
More research is needed into the dangers of noise in industries where the risks are not understood or acted on. This would establish the nature and kinds of the risk in some of the new noisy industries. Night-clubs, restaurants, call centres, motorcyclists, and cinemas are places where much greater research is needed and much better guidance given to employers and employees. These should be added onto the HSE list of jobs known to be noisy and greater publicity be given to the risks in these types of work.
The RNID would like to see guidelines on assessing noise risk for employees for whom the source of sound is through headphones. The existing Noise at Work regulations focus on background noise in the workplace. Assessments are made as to the general level of noise. Where sound is received through headphones each individual's noise exposure may be different, especially if sudden loud noises are an occupational hazard. The current regulations give no clear guidance to an employer or employee on how noise can be assessed in these situations.
There is still a long way to go in getting some employers to meet their legal obligations, under the Noise at Work Regulations 1989, particularly amongst small firms. In the report "Assessment of compliance with the Noise at Work Regulations 1989" one of the findings was that nearly three quarters of employers were reported to have carried out a noise survey to decide if and where detailed assessments of noise were needed. But, only 40 per cent of firms employing fewer than 25 had done so. Only four-fifths of employers were reported to issue ear protection to employees in order to comply fully with the Regulations.