Construction workers on decibels alert

Construction is the second noisiest occupation in the UK, just behind airport ground work, new research has revealed.

The use of hammer drills can expose construction workers to noise levels up to 120 decibels (dB), only slightly less than airport ground staff directing jets in landing and take-off, who are subjected to noise levels up to 140 dB – more than 1000 times the sound energy at the noisiest of music events.

Construction workers fare only just better than farm hands who feed pigs; the noise from the animals squealing can reach 105 dB, while there is a significant risk to health at noise exposure levels above 85 dB.

The research, carried out in advance of International Noise Awareness Day (24 April) by noise-management solutions company Echo Barrier, shows that construction workers face potential serious health problems if they are not protected from the noise that they are exposed to on a daily basis on building sites.

Peter Wilson, technical director at Echo Barrier, said he hoped the research would help raise awareness among the general public of the issue of noise and the risks it poses.

He said: “Working for years in a noisy job significantly increases the risk of serious hearing difficulties. Workers can lessen the risk by protecting ears with earplugs or other hearing-protection devices at all times, but employers need to be aware of how damaging noise pollution can be – and not just for their employees.”

He added that people who come into contact with a noisy place of work, such as a building site, can also suffer negative health effects. “Noise can cause headaches, high stress levels, tinnitus, hearing loss, depression and insomnia,” he explained.

According to the HSE, noise-induced hearing loss is one of the biggest occupational health problems facing the UK, with 19,000 cases caused, or made worse by work between 2009/10 and 2011/12.

Safety product supplier Arco has developed an Expert Guide to provide guidance on managing and preventing hearing loss in the workplace. Sally Clayton, hearing product manager at Arco said: “While noise-induced hearing loss is permanent and irreversible, it is also preventable. It is a gradual process that can take between 10 and 20 years to surface and, sadly, by that time, it is often too late to reverse.

“While ensuring employees are adequately protected, there are also several things businesses can do to limit the number of people exposed to high levels of noise, including adopting working hours to restrict noisy activities to certain periods of the day and reducing the need for noisy assembly practices by fabricating off-site where possible. After these preventative measures have been taken, protective equipment will help to protect from the residual risks.”

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