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Protect your employees with interactive noise warning signs

20 November 2020

Wearing hearing protections is not always popular with staff, but do interactive noise warning signs offer an alternative? Laura Jenkins and Jaymee-Lee Tolliday look at the issues

So, you’ve completed your noise assessment, and found several areas within your workplace where a number of employees are likely to be exposed to levels of noise at or above the Upper Action Value (UAV) of 85dB(A). But now what? You need to find the best way to bring the noise exposure for the employees working in those areas down.

Whilst the easiest and simplest option is to arm your workforce with hearing protection, and many employers will attribute the success of their health and safety programmes to this, according to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 hearing protection should be your last resort.

The regulations (which came into force in all industry sectors except entertainment in Great Britain in 2006) state that if, after exploring and carrying out all the technical and organisational ways to reduce noise in the workplace, you identify that employees will still be exposed to noise levels at or above the Lower Action Value (LAV) of 80dB(A), then and only then will you need to provide them with access to hearing protection, or issue it to specific employees still at or above the UAV.

Hearing protection zones

The guidance given in the regulations suggests that hearing protection zones offer a way for employers to effectively manage the use of hearing protection, stating: “Making the use of hearing protection compulsory for workers exposed below the upper exposure action values…should be avoided, except within hearing protection zones.

“Where workers are exposed to above the UAV and are therefore required to wear hearing protection, you should not necessarily make is compulsory at all times throughout the working day. Hearing protection should be targeted at particular noisy jobs and activities, and be selected to reduce exposure at least to below the UAV.”

These zones can serve as a reminder to any employees for whom hearing protection is compulsory during particular jobs and activities, that they have a responsibility themselves to wear the hearing protection provided. They also offer a way of ensuring that other members of staff and visitors can be protected from the noise that those jobs or activities produce.

Noise-activated signage, or standard signage

The chances are, wearing ear defenders isn’t popular with staff exposed to industrial noise, and it probably isn’t practical for employees to wear hearing protection all day every day, especially if noise levels regularly vary significantly.

Wearing ear defenders all day could also lead to workers feeling isolated as they’re unable to successfully engage in conversation with their colleagues. There is a chance that this could lead to loss of morale and high staff turnover.

So how do you manage this? You may decide to put up standard “Hearing Protection Must Be Worn” signs, which mean employees have to continuously follow those rules in those zones, and someone will have to monitor and ensure people are complying with the instruction.

Alternatively, you could use a noise-activated warning sign which provides a temporary warning linked to the actual noise level in the area itself, and can help to manage the wearing of PPE. The way these signs work is straightforward, with the employer setting a trigger level of, say 80dB(A), and once the noise reaches that level the sign will display its lit-up warning.

Interactive warning signs offer the advantage that hearing protection need only be worn when necessary

These interactive warning signs offer the advantage that hearing protection need only be worn when necessary, and the clear and visible warning makes it obvious for employees to see. Using hearing protection only when required means companies are placing less reliance on using PPE, and offering more comfort for workers, and less work-place isolation.

Noise-activated warning signs can also serve as an important safety function in work environments that rely on processes that involve or produce exceptionally loud sounds. They offer the benefit that other workers, i.e. office staff or even visitors, who walk through the workshops and factories can immediately tell at a glance if the environment is noisy and put on the relevant PPE.

Do interactive signs work?

Simply, yes. Just using hearing protection for the noisiest activities is usually enough to bring noise levels down to the correct levels.

Additionally, some signs can also be used to log and store noise levels, and therefore give an indication of noise levels over time. This enables the employer to keep track of problem areas and investigate any issues to prevent high levels of noise exposure to workers.

Some signs can also be used to log and store noise levels, and therefore give an indication of noise levels over time

This should all lead to a better understanding of noise issues affecting workers, and also a reduction in the use of hearing PPE and reliance on it as a ‘catch-all’ solution.

Work-related hearing loss is preventable. But once your employees lose their hearing, it isn’t coming back.

Find out more about noise-activated signs, and how they can benefit your workplace, and help to combat hearing loss in the workplace: https://get.pulsarinstruments.com/warning-signs/ Laura Jenkins is marketing manager at Pulsar Instruments


Case study

A large vehicle maintenance workshop in Yorkshire was assessed. The workers undertake a variety of tasks each day such as removing rust from vehicles using an angle grinder, metal repair work using an arc welder, jet washing vehicles and their component parts in an open plan environment. The LEP’d of the workers carrying out these tasks was found to be above the Upper Action Value of 85dB(A), and as work takes place in a large open plan warehouse other workers in the vicinity, as well as office staff and visitors, were potentially found to be at risk.

Aside from proposing various technological and organisational solutions such as changes to work patterns, the next obvious solution to reducing individual’s LEP,d seemed to be to create mandatory Hearing Protection Zones where the noisiest activities took place to ensure that employees who enter any such areas are wearing hearing protection.

The downsides of this are that anyone working in those areas would need to wear hearing protection whether it was noisy or not, and also that someone would need to ‘police’ the correct wearing of this hearing PPE. It also potentially means that anyone working in that zone at quieter times may not be able to hear the general hubbub of other workers and communicate with them. This can often lead to feelings of isolation, loss of morale and high staff turnover.

The alternative then is to use Noise-Activated Warning Signs to mark out the hearing protection zones. For this company, it was possible to relocate some of the activities that resulted in high noise levels behind an acoustic curtain and zone this as a hearing protection zone when the signs were lit. We also proposed installing additional signs in other areas of the open plan workshop so that when activities from the zone were high enough to impact other people working in the vicinity the signs would trigger, and other employees and visitors would know to put on their protection.

Furthermore, ‘Remote Units’ connected to a Master were employed outside of the workshop next to a hearing protection dispenser so anyone entering the workshop already knew if noise was an issue.