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3M What If You Can’t Turn The Sound Down?

3M uses Noise Action Week to focus on noise at work

Noise Action Week is an annual initiative coordinated by Environmental Protection UK and this year will take place between 26 and 30 April. The week gives everyone involved in managing noise hazards the opportunity to focus attention on the difficulties and health risks that excessive noise can cause for us all - at home, at work, at study and at leisure.

This year’s Noise Action Week is placing a strong emphasis on the impact of loud MP3 players on hearing. However Sue Poole, Product Manager for 3M’s Occupational Health and Environmental Safety Division, says there are important messages for businesses and industry, too: “The potential output of some MP3 players has been recorded at levels of 120 dB(A) (decibels). Some industrial equipment can come close to that but whereas an MP3 player can be turned down, a worker can be exposed to a noisy environment for an eight-hour shift without the option of shutting off the sound.

“Noise Action Week is about the impact of excessive noise on communities and individuals, drawing attention to the impact it can have on quality of life, health and wellbeing. While we have this emphasis on noise, we want to draw the attention of individual workers to the dangers they face in working environments if they don’t ensure they have the right hearing protection.”

Hearing loss is one of the most common industrial injuries which can affect workers in an increasing number of jobs. Not enough workers understand the importance of hearing protection for their day-to-day work. Even though The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 governs the provision of hearing protection, it can be difficult in some work places to enforce them.

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 states that employers must offer suitable hearing protection where noise exceeds 80dB(A). It also states that at levels over 85dB(A) hearing protection must be used. Despite this there is often resistance to hearing protection from individual workers and in situations where someone is self-employed, using noisy equipment, there is no management mechanism for enforcement.

Diversified technology company 3M believes just as much stress needs to be placed on situations where people don’t have a choice about noise. A surprising number of jobs away from heavy industry are carried out against a background of noise that poses a long-term threat to hearing. Bar work, light industry and even some aspects of gardening could all exceed the noise levels considered safe by law.

A study was carried out by the University of Washington Department of Environment and Occupational Health Sciences, Seattle, taking representative noise assessments in a variety of non-occupational circumstances.* The results showed that the noisiest environment was a concert which reached noise levels of 120dB(A) and sporting events recorded an average 106dB(A). When assessing work place environments, most power tools resulted an average of 90dB(A) and above. Chainsaws could reach as high as 115DB(A) and generators 98dB(A).

Sue Poole, continues: “On the whole industry is very well informed about the regulations relating to noise at work and the need to provide the correct level of protection. But on an individual level workers could be slipping through the net. These might be people who work in an environment where protection is provided, but they don’t think that the noise levels are high enough to need it – sadly these could be people whose hearing has already been affected.

“There are also a lot of people who don’t have the management safety net: self employed or small businesses who are not informed or aware of the regulations or the health risks. One good example would be gardeners. It is taken for granted that this is a really healthy job in the outside environment involving lots of physical activity in the fresh air. However noise hazards can arise when using a lawnmower for several hours a day without hearing protection. Most lawnmowers in the US study exceeded 80dB(A) and some reached levels such as110dB(A).”

Noise Action Week 2010 aims to raise awareness of the impact excessive noise has on communities and individuals, drawing attention to how it can affect quality of life, health and wellbeing. Poole continues:” At 3M we want to highlight the dangers individual workers face in their everyday working environment and ensure they have considered what protection they need and are entitled to. We also want them to understand why they need personal protective equipment; that they have access to the correct protection and are fully trained in its use, fitting and maintenance.”

Check out, the official online 3M store for the full hearing range of personal protective equipment.


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