Preventing Noise Induced Hearing Loss in the workplace

Preventing NIHL with noise monitoring technology and data analytics

Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is a permanent and disabling condition that affects nearly two million workers in the UK across a range of industries, including construction and manufacturing.

NIHL is a particularly vexing condition to prevent because many workers aren’t aware that they have it until it’s too late. Damage caused by exposure to noise is cumulative, meaning it builds up over time. As a result, a worker may not realise that their hearing is impaired until the damage is significant.

There are other reasons why exposure to harmful levels of noise might be difficult to mitigate: while it’s obvious that certain noises - like those from heavy machinery or industrial equipment - can damage a worker’s hearing, there are other factors that can contribute to hearing loss over time. These include whether a given worker has HAVS1, the level of fatigue experienced by a given worker 2, and whether a worker is performing shift work 3.

Given the many factors that might contribute to, or exacerbate, hearing loss, it’s unsurprising that NIHL has proven difficult to effectively tackle. According to the British Safety Council, the typical noise protection offered to workers in the UK is far from adequate:

“Time and again it has been shown that the effectiveness of foam earplugs is likely to be compromised by the fit, fitting skill and motivation of the wearer. When HSE itself conducted a wide-ranging investigation into the real world use and performance of earplugs its researchers observed, “most workers using foam earplugs fitted them incorrectly”.

Further, the Council states that “ . . . it is clear that only protective equipment which (a) preserves the situational awareness of the wearer and (b) allows businesses to actively monitor wear rates and the wearer’s exposure to noise constitutes true hearing protection.”

Reactec: partnerships and technologies for true hearing protection

Reactec has partnered with Minuendo - a leader in noise monitoring technology - to bring effective, personalised hearing protection to the UK’s workers. With Minuendo’s Smart Alert technology, teams can monitor workers’ exposure to noise with a high degree of accuracy. And because Smart Alert is fully integrated with Reactec’s powerful analytics platform, the data collected is automatically transformed into actionable insights that duty holders can use to more effectively manage employees’ exposure to harmful noise.

Smart Alert is ground-breaking technology: it offers an automated and integrated approach to hearing loss prevention that sets new standards for protection. Smart Alert is a lightweight earplug with in-ear noise monitoring. It’s a revolutionary way to offer workers total protection that doesn’t slow them down with bulky or confusing tech. An effective alternative or addition to earplugs or earmuffs, Smart Alert is purpose-built for dynamic noise environments and designed to facilitate smarter ways of working.

Technology like that available through our partnership with Minuendo accomplishes the dual goals of effective noise protection technology set out by the British Safety Council: Smart Alert uses real-time noise alerts to remind workers to wear protection, and offers hear-through technology to ensure that the wearer can communicate with co-workers and remain aware of their environment without removing their hearing protection. Because Smart Alert is are designed to facilitate work, workers are more likely to wear them, more likely to wear them properly, and more likely to keep them in.

And with the information and insights available with powerful analytics, it’s possible to actively monitor wear rates and an individual wearer’s exposure to noise.

Reactec knows that successfully reducing the risk of exposure to harmful working conditions is built on personalised monitoring, real-time notifications, and meaningful insights that empower better future planning. The key to effectively managing these complex or difficult-to-tackle risks, is a data-driven approach that doesn’t rely on guesswork, and makes it easy and fast for workers, duty holders, and teams to adopt and implement better ways of working.

1. Pettersson H. Risk of hearing loss from combined exposure to hand-arm vibrations and noise; 2013

2. Albery WB. The effect of sustained acceleration and noise on workload in human operators. Aviation Space and Environmental Medicine 1989;60:943-8; Zhang K, Wickens CD. Effects of noise and workload on performance with two object displays vs. a separated display. Dissertation Abstracts International 1990;51:1499-503; Smith-Jackson TL, Klein KW. Open-plan offices: task performance and mental workload. Journal of Environmental Psychology 2009;29:279-89.

3. Golmohammadi, R. Noise and Health Journal (2019). Volume 21. Issue 01. The combined effects of occupational exposure to noise and other risk factors − a systematic review

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