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When it comes to your health and safety, protecting your ears is often overlooked. This is because you cannot see the damage that’s being done. In the workplace, excess noise is one of the most universal hazards, causing irreversible hearing loss. As such, it is a hazard that can be underestimated by both employers and employees alike meaning ear protection must be addressed as a priority.

Ear Protection Update

Contrary to popular belief, hearing loss is not inevitable. By identifying the exposure levels, reducing the risk of harmful noise at source, or wearing suitable and adequate hearing protection, it can be prevented. This must be backed up by relevant training and support in the correct fitting and wearing of hearing protection solutions but the risk of noise-induced hearing loss can be significantly reduced by following the proper selection and use of hearing protection.

Noise induced hearing loss is the most common, permanent and irreversible injury in the world and tinnitus is the third most serious non-fatal medical condition.

The World Health Organisation

Hearing facts (UK)

  • An estimated 900,000 people have severe or profound hearing loss
  • Around one in ten adults have tinnitus
  • There are 11 million people with hearing loss which equates to around one in six!
  • It’s estimated that by 2035 there will be around 15.6 million people with hearing loss (that’s one in five)
  • More than 40% of people over the age of 50 have hearing loss. This rises to 71% of people over the age of 70.

Ear Protection: what’s the change?

The EU’s new PPE Regulation identifies workplace noise as a significant health risk. This has promoted a category change for hearing protection. It has been agreed that there’s much wider consequences of hearing loss which aren’t currently discussed. There’s also many wider implications to the individual affected, their quality of life and the impact noise induced hearing loss can have on them and their family.

Hearing protection must now be treated as seriously as protection from ionising radiation, asbestos, drowning, electric shocks, bullets, knives and falls from height. This has led to the reclassification of hearing protection from Category II (intermediate) to the more stringent Category III (complex). Category III applies to risks that cause very serious consequences such as death or irreversible damage to health and escalates the severity or impact of the consequences of the risk.

Hearing protection in the workplace

Timeline of important dates

  • On 21st April 2016, the transition period for the new PPE Regulation (EU) 2016/425 came into force.
  • On 21st April 2018, the old Directive was revoked.
  • From 21st April 2019, Regulation (EU) 2016/425 became fully applicable as the sole regulation covering the design, manufacture and supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the European Union.
  • From 21st April 2023, the PPE Directive 89/686/ EEC certificates becomes invalid.

Please note: From 21st April 2018- 21st April 2023, new products must be compliant to the new PPE regulation and can be placed on the market with certification.  Until 21st April 2023, non-expired certificates to the PPE Directive 89/686/ EEC remain valid for products manufactured before.

The Action Values of noise exposure

  • Daily personal noise exposure (LEP,d) is a measure of the total noise received by an employee over the
    working day. Daily personal noise exposures depend both on noise levels experienced at work and on
    the time spent in the noise. A high-level noise for a short time will give the same noise exposure as a
    lower level noise for a longer time, if the total sound energies of the two noises are equal.
  • Weekly personal noise exposure (LEP,w) is a measure of the total noise received by an employee during
    a working week. This is used where the exposure of an employee to noise varies markedly from day to
    day. It is calculated for a 40-hour week (five 8-hour days) instead of an 8-hour day.
  • Peak sound pressure level (LCpeak) is the instantaneous C-weighted peak sound pressure level occurring
    during the working day, i.e. impact or explosive noises.
  • Lower exposure action values are 80 dB(A) LEP,d Sound Exposure, and 135 dB(C) LCpeak Peak Level.
  • Upper exposure action values are 85 dB(A) LEP,d Sound Exposure, and 137 dB(C) LCpeak Peak Level.The exposure action values are ambient noise levels and do not take into account any hearing protection

Learn more about the ear protection update…

For a complete guide to the new PPE Regulation (EU) 2016/425, please see here.

*Disclaimer* This article is our interpretation of the new safety guidance. Axminster Tools & Machinery do not necessarily endorse any suggestions, solutions, or third party products that may be mentioned. Please use the information at your own discretion. Axminster Tools & Machinery does not guarantee that these links will be maintained or functional at any given time. 

What does the revised Category change mean?

Firstly, products currently classed as Category II must be submitted for testing to gain CE approval but do not need to be retested. Furthermore, products in Category III must also go through this initial test. Through ongoing surveillance testing, they must then continue to meet the requirements of the standard.

Samples will be submitted for testing annually. This applies unless the product is manufactured under ISO 9001 or other accredited quality management system. Finally, the products must also continue to meet the requirements of the latest version of the standards.

Ear protection

What are the legal responsibilities as an employer?

If you are an employer there will be more emphasis correctly identifying and assessing the noise levels that employees are exposed to. Should the noise exposure prove to be excessive to the Control of Noise at Work regulations exposure limits, employers must act upon it accordingly. In essence, this will mean a need to reduce the noise level at source. If engineering control fail to bring the noise levels down sufficiently, you will need to consider hearing protectors.

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005

This came into force on 6th April 2006. It brought significant changes to the actions which were required by employers and employees under the previous Noise at Work Regulations 1989. As a result, employers had extra responsibilities. Moreover, noise exposures and level limits were also lowered.

The above regulation requires employers to prevent or reduce risk to health and safety from exposure to noise at work. With this in mind, employers must:

  • Assess the noise in your workplace and any risk it poses to your employees.
  • Take action to eliminate the noise at source. Where this isn’t practical, reduce it as low as is reasonably practical.
  • Once noise reduction measures have been taken, if one of the Exposure Action Values is exceeded then the relevant actions concerning protecting employee’s hearing must be actioned.
  • The last resort is a provision of hearing protection. Hearing protection zones must be marked. Employers must be suitably trained in the correct fitting and wearing of the protection.
  • Where there is a risk to health, carry out health surveillance.

What the ear protection update means for you

  • Hearing protectors need to fit correctly and worn when needed.
  • With this in mind, there is now a greater significance on adequate hearing protectors for the specific noise levels. They need to be suitable for the wearer, task and the environment alike.
  • Improved safety of the products on the market. This will eliminate counterfeit and poor-quality products as all PPE brought into the European market will conform to the new Regulation as it will adhere to a relevant and current standard.
  • Proper information, education and training is vital for wearers. As such, it is important to deliver adequate and relevant materials and training.
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A Roundup on Ear Protection

Need help?

If you need help or advice on ear protection or any aspect of health and safety, why not get in touch with one of our Axminster Experts? Either pop into your local Axminster store and chat with our experienced sales advisors, call our dedicated Customer Services team for advice or talk to us through our Online Chat function on our website. As always, you can get in touch and ask questions via any of our social media platforms. We are here to help you!

Discover more…

Firstly, if you’ve enjoyed reading this article, why not take a look at some of our other Health and Safety articles? Read all about the JSP PowerCap ® Infinity® Respirator with our informative guide. Designed for harsh industrial environments, JSP’s first four-in-one head unit offers users complete above the head protection.

Next, take a look at the latest Welding Health and Safety update. From February 2019, anyone who undertakes welding activities, regardless of industry must be protected against welding fumes. This comes as a result of new scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The new findings reveal exposure to welding fumes can cause lung cancer. There’s also a suggestion that it might even lead to kidney cancer as well.

Get in touch

Finally, if you’ve need help in finding suitable ear protection solutions we’d love to hear from you. Comment below or get in touch via our social media platforms. Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet using #earprotection to @AxminsterTools.

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