In this, the second of our Wednesday focusses on the senses and the links to health and safety, we are focussing on the sense of hearing - the ability to hear sound.
The OED describes sound as "vibrations that travel through the air or another medium and can be heard when they reach a person's or animal's ear."
As with all the five senses, hearing allows us to listen to pleasant sounds that give us joy, such as laughter, music and birdsong, but it also us to listen to unwanted sounds, (noise). It is noise that can cause many problems to both the safety and health of the person or people hearing it.
There are many places online and elsewhere that will tell you about the legal requirements of noise in the workplace, and the exposure limits that must not be exceeded. This article is not about that. It is about the problems unwanted sound can bring to people and the workplace.
Whether it be the annoyance of someone tapping or humming whilst you are trying to concentrate, to work taking place nearby creating noise whilst you are trying to sleep, noise is serious issue for many people.
As we get older the frequencies that we can hear become less and less, and some organisations have used that to ward off groups of teenagers from particular areas. Whether this is morally right, or an infringement of rights is another discussion, but it is an important pot to raise that employers need to be aware of - not everyone hears sound the same way.
Similarly some people may be unable to hear all or some sounds and employers need to be aware of their legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments. According to Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the Royal Institute for the Deaf), one in six of the population of the UK - 11 million people - suffer from some form of hearing loss. With so many people affected, is it not time that those reasonable adjustments became the norm?
If you work in an office environment, can everyone hear the fire alarm? Is a flashing red light required, or even a vibrating pager linked to the alarm system? Similar solutions may be relevant in noisier workshops where machinery or even ear defenders can prevent the alarm being heard.
Noise control measures must be implemented as a result of a full detailed noise risk assessment. Measures implemented should be managed and maintained in good working order and good states of repair. Employees should be able to report noise issues, and know how to wear and look after any hearing protection provided. And where identified in risk assessments, training and health surveillance should be implemented.
Whatever the sound, as humans we should be privileged to hear it. Sadly too many of us do not. The sense of hearing provides enjoyment and satisfaction to many. It provides a warning when there is danger. We need to preserve that privilege whilst also protecting our ears from dangerous noise thresholds and we need to help those who lack or are limited in their ability to hear.
* KSH Safety Services can offer a basic noise monitoring service. For a detailed assessment, there are other providers available. We also offer a Noise Awareness e-learning course, approved by the IIRSM.
The above is one of a series of articles being published in the lead up to the Merseyside Business Expo on 11 October 2019, 9am - 3pm. Join us on our stand to find out more, and to find out about how KSH Safety Services can help your business.
We will be just one of about 150 local businesses exhibiting at the Liverpool Exhibition Centre that day. So why not join us as a visitor? We are expecting over 2,000 others to visit, making it an excellent opportunity to network and do business. Admission is free, and to register visit https://shoutexpo.com/merseyside/ today.
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