Electricians, like many other professionals within the construction and industrial sectors, are at risk of any number of things while on site. One particularly concerning but sometimes overlooked risk is noise-induced hearing loss. This common issue arises from prolonged exposure to high levels of noise or sudden exposure to intensely loud sounds.

Sometimes we don’t fully contemplate just how significant the risk of sound can really be. It only takes noise in excess of 85 decibels for sound to become potentially damaging to our hearing. For context, 85 decibels is the noise created by a typical vacuum cleaner. The higher the decibels, the shorter the time to become a risk to hearing loss. Using an electric drill, for example, at 94 decibels, takes an hour to become a health risk. Without protection, a person can only listen to an ambulance siren (109 decibels) for two minutes.

In those environments that electricians work, there are any number of sound sources that will go over the threshold (including many that the electricians themselves will make over the course of their work).

What does this mean for work sites?

Recognising the gravity of this issue is the first step, and then there needs to be a robust effort to implement strategies that will minimise the risks associated with exposure to excess noise.

This starts with the SWMS. In preparing to begin work on a site, the SWMS needs to acknowledge where tools and equipment that might produce noise in excess of 85 decibels will be utilised, and then clearly explain how this will be monitored and managed.

One of the main ways of managing the risk is to make sure that each electrician is equipped with adequate gear to mitigate against the noise. The use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as earmuffs or earplugs, will be instrumental in mitigating the impact of loud noises on any site. These devices act as a barrier, reducing the amount of noise that reaches the ears and thus safeguarding against hearing loss.

Beyond the realm of PPE, worksite managers can implement a wide range of different control measures that can help to mitigate against the noise risk. For example, physical barriers can be strategically positioned between noise sources and workers to reduce the direct exposure that the worker has to that noise. This can drastically cut the decibels entering their ears.

Moreover, increasing the distance between noisy equipment and workers through the use of longer leads, hoses, and extension cords offers an additional layer of protection. Decibels do drop off quickly as the noise passes through the air.

Finally, there are often quieter equipment options on the market today. There are obvious limits on this (cutting through steel, for example, is always going to be noisy no matter what tool is being used), But there can be a difference. Properly maintaining equipment can also help to ensure that the equipment runs as quietly as possible and doesn’t produce excess noise.

Why this matters?

Beyond the fact that employers should naturally want to protect their employees, and hearing is an essential part of that, there is a significant regulatory and legal obligations placed on worker safety.

This encompasses the regular conduct of noise assessments to identify potential hazards, the provision of suitable control measures, and ensuring that workers are not exposed to noise levels surpassing established standards.
A comprehensive hearing protection program must also include education and training components. Workers need to be well-informed about the risks associated with high noise levels, the importance of PPE usage, and the correct procedures for maintaining and using this equipment.

For those who work in consistently noisy environments, regular hearing checks represent a crucial aspect of any proactive hearing protection program. These assessments serve as a proactive measure, enabling the early detection of signs of hearing loss. Early identification facilitates timely interventions, potentially arresting the progression of the condition before it worsens.

It’s important to get all the above right, not only out of concern for employee safety, but because it’s simply good business. Employees who suffer hearing damage might need to take a lengthy absence from work, or even be unable to continue their duties entirely. Not only does the employer then lose a good worker but is potentially liable for significant compensation claims.

For these reasons, it’s in the best interest of everyone to insist that every effort is made to avoid noise risk.
The team at NECA is here to support organisations in meeting and exceeding their obligations in workplace safety with the provision of the highest quality protection equipment available. Speak to the NECA team today to better understand how to ensure your worksite meets the most robust safety standards.