It is crucially important that protective apparel for hearing forms part of every construction company’s health and safety management controls, owing to the nature of construction work, states Midrand-based building and construction association Master Builders Association (MBA) North.
“Hearing protection equipment, such as earplugs and earmuffs, is graded according to the level of noise reduction it offers. Therefore, employers should ensure that the correct grading is used in certain areas to handle the varying noise levels on construction sites,” says MBA North occupational health and safety manager Doug Michell.
He says noise-induced hearing-loss regulations stipulate controls and monitoring requirements at any workplace where a worker may be exposed to noise levels above the rating limit.
According to MBA North, it may be difficult to identify tasks and situations that may constitute possible noise hazards at construction sites because of the different requirements of construction work taking place.
“However, where practical, a survey should be conducted every two years to estab- lish whether operations produce noise above 85 dB. When the noise level exceeds 85 dB, adequate protection systems must be provided for the employees who are exposed to these conditions. Also, a manufacturer’s specifications should be used as guidelines to determine whether a tool or equipment can produce noise above that level,” highlights Michell.
The association further notes that when the protection equipment does not reduce noise to below 85 dB, the time during which employees work in that noise level must be limited.
However, if the noise level cannot prac- tically be lowered to below 85 dB, the boundaries of noise zones must be demarcated through notices indicating the decibel level. Entrance into noise zones, which are indicated by signs, must be prohibited, unless hearing-protection systems are worn by employees. Only approved hearing-protection systems may be issued to employees.
MBA North adds that people who are continuously exposed to noise levels exceeding 85 dB are required to undergo audiometric screening to determine an audiometric baseline. Thereafter, yearly testing may be required to monitor the status of such an employee’s hearing.
“This being the case, manufacturers of noise-protection equipment are continually making improvements. The Southern African Institute for Occupational Hygiene is dedicated to occupational hygiene and noise exposure falls within this specialisation. Therefore, employers can contact this organisation when they require specialised assistance,” he adds.
In addition to the construction health and safety forums that MBA North hosts every second month, he notes that the employees of companies employing an occupational hygienist, who identifies potential problems associated with noise levels, are trained to improve their awareness of noise levels in the workplace.
“Companies can initiate training awareness programmes on the consequences of prolonged exposure to high decibel levels and on the correct use of protective hearing equipment. Programmes will equip employees with the correct knowledge to preserve their hearing,” explains Michell.
MBA North also emphasises the import-ance of wearing personal protective equip-ment (PPE) clothing. This includes equipment for the head, hands, feet and body.
“After the employer has issued the PPE, it is the responsibility of the employee to use and look after it,” he says, adding that wilful damage to protective systems may lead to disciplinary action.