By 2031, 20% of the population are predicted to suffer from hearing loss, costing the UK economy £25 billion. Workplace hearing loss is a serious concern, with approximately, 20,000 people working last year suffering from noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), both new and longstanding cases.


Noise exposure recently became a national debate, with the chimes of Big Ben being stopped to protect workers’ hearing whilst renovation work is completed. This sparked controversy among members of the public and Parliament, raising concern about the iconic landmark being silenced for four years. Currently, a health and safety investigation is underway, exploring the affects of noise exposure on workers health and if alternative methods could be used to avoid silencing the clock.


Evidence highlights further education about the importance of preventing noise exposure in the workplace is essential to improving the statistics. It might be simple to provide training and education to the whole workforce about the importance of protecting hearing but if millennials aren’t in tune with health and safety generally, how do you change behaviour?


NIHL: Who is at risk?
Industries with the highest incidences of NIHL include manufacturing, construction, energy and mining due to tools and machinery used. Whilst hearing protection is vital for all employees working in noisy conditions, risks should still be controlled and longer term solutions implemented to reduce employee exposure. Monitoring could upskill workers with the knowledge to monitor their own health, as well as the health of their colleagues.


Currently, 15 to 24 year olds are 40% more likely to sustain injuries than older colleagues. [1] Alarmingly, 33% of millennials have no idea what to do in a hazardous situation, whereas 92% of older workers do not put themselves at risk.[2] Adhering to health and safety policies is a universal responsibility in the workplace and if younger workers fail to follow advice, this could seriously affect their wellbeing and hearing in the future.


Millennial attitudes towards health and safety make for uncomfortable reading with 27% of millennials not following safety procedures, despite 56% having read health and safety guidance. [3] This suggests a large proportion of younger workers could be putting their hearing at risk, whilst the older generation may also be affected. Monitoring programmes could protect the whole workforce, engaging workers to embrace smart technologies, thinking proactively about their health.


Methods in monitoring
In the workplace, millennials are more likely to share data and use technologies. [4] With the younger generation embracing technological innovations that have altered lives irrevocably, integrating monitoring solutions could be an effective way of changing their behavior and attitudes towards health and safety.


There are two monitoring solutions that can be used to measure noise exposure such as a sound level meter, which is a handheld device and measurements are taken at the ear, with the monitor pointing at the source of noise. The other type is a dosimeter. This is a personal monitoring solution, bodily worn by workers to measure individual exposure.


Implementing the use of monitoring solutions could be key in helping employers control noise levels and comply to the 2005, Control of Noise Regulations. The regulations stipulate noise should not exceed 85 decibels and at this level, hearing protection must be provided and the risks to workers assessed. When noise levels reach 80 decibels, which is the average level for a factory, extra information and training must be given.[5]


When reading noise levels, ‘action’ and ‘exposure’ levels should be assessed. Action levels in noise monitoring exist in two forms. Firstly, measurements must be taken based on a workers’ average exposure over a working day. This protects employees from damage to hearing over the span of their working lives.


Secondly, instantaneous damage can occur to hearing from high levels of impulsive noise. Damage caused from this type of exposure can result in a ‘ringing’ sound in the ears. If there is a risk of this type of exposure, then peak noise levels should also be monitored and recorded.


Incidences of NIHL and the statistics showing millennials’ attitudes towards health and safety is a dangerous mix that does not bode well for the future. Monitoring could be the solution to engaging the younger generation, encouraging them to take notice of their health and safety, before it is too late.


Tim Turney, Technical Product Manager Casella

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This article was first published in December 2017 edition of Safety Management Magazine