Personal protective equipment (PPE) issued by employers to workers should include earplugs or earmuffs that are correctly graded for relevant operational noise levels, warns the Master Builders Association Gauteng.
In a section on hearing protection in a new MBA Gauteng textbook, titled ‘Applying Safe Work Practice in the Building Environment’, specialist authors warn that noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) regulations stipulate controls and monitoring requirements at workplaces where workers may be exposed to noise levels above rating limits.
“Hearing protection equipment such as earplugs and earmuffs are graded according to the amount of noise reduction they offer, so employers should be aware of the correct grading for the amount of noise in various areas.
“Due to the nature of construction work, it may be difficult to identify tasks and situations that pose noise hazards. A general guideline is where normal communication is difficult, like when you need to shout to communicate, then the noise rating limit may have been exceeded.”
MBA Gauteng advise construction employers to apply these principles in hearing protection management;
• Surveys should be conducted every two years to establish if operations produce noise over 85dB(A), meaning 85 decibels at A level weighting.
• PPE manufacturers’ specifications should be used as guidelines to determine whether a tool or equipment could produce noise above that level.
• When noise exceeds 85dB, adequate protection systems must be provided to employees exposed to the noise.
• When personal protection equipment (PPE) does not reduce the noise level to below 85dB, the time during which employees work in that noise zone must be limited.
• Where a noise level can not practically be lowered to below 85dBs, boundaries of noise zones must be demarcated by posting signage and notices to that effect.
• Entrance into noise zones indicated by symbolic signs, must be prohibited unless hearing protection systems are worn.
• Hearing protection systems tested and certified to relevant standards must be issued to employees, and not untested, uncertified PPE.
Persons who are continuously exposed to tasks identified to have noise levels exceeding 85 decibels, are required to undergo audiometric screening to determine an audiometric baseline. Thereafter, annual hearing testing may be required to monitor the status of these employee’s hearing, advises the MBA textbook, sponsored by Dawn Group.
Hearing protection posters, toolbox talks
According to an Advantage ACT toolbox talk and poster kit, noise-Induced Hearing Loss Regulations under Section 4 (1) (f) stipulate necessity, correct use, maintenance, limitations of hearing protectors, facilities, and engineering control measures to be provided.
Section 12 (1) requires that equipment is capable of keeping noise exposure below the noise rating limit, is correctly selected and, properly used, that employees receive relevant information, instruction, training and supervision, and that personal protective equipment (PPE) is kept in a good condition and efficient working order.
Section 12 (2) stipulates that no reusable hearing protective equipment may be issued to any person unless the equipment is properly decontaminated and where appropriate, sterilised; provide separate containers or storage facilities for hearing protective equipment when not in use and ensure that equipment not in used are stored only in the place provided for it.
No employer or self-employed person shall require or permit any person to enter any workplace under his or her control where such person will be exposed to noise at or above 85dBA noise-rating limit.
Medical surveillance, audiograms
A medical surveillance for all employees exposed to noise at or above 85dBA shall be established and maintained.
This medical surveillance shall consist of a baseline audiogram that is recorded according to Section 8 of the Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Regulations.
Audiograms are charts, graphs or tables indicating the threshold levels of an individual as a function of frequency (namely 0.5, 1,2,3,4,6 and 8 kilohertz), as determined during a measurement of a person’s hearing threshold levels by means of a monaural, pure-tone, air-conduction threshold test.
Control of Noise Exposure
As far as reasonably practical, an employer or self-employed person shall reduce exposure to noise by implementing noise control measures in the following order of priority:
1. Engineering control measures to eliminate or reduce noise at its source, or the modification of the routes by which noise reaches workplaces;
2. Administrative control measures to limit the number of persons exposed and the duration or exposure; and
3. The use of hearing protective equipment if engineering and administrative control measures fail to reduce exposure below the noise-rating limit.
Hearing Protective Equipment
This equipment shall:
1. Be capable of keeping the exposure below the noise-rating limit;
2. Be correctly selected and properly used;
3. Be supplied to employees through information, instruction, training and supervision that are necessary with regards to the use of the equipment; and
4. Be kept in good condition and efficient working order.
An employer shall:
1. Issue NO re-usable hearing protective equipment to any person, unless it has been properly decontaminated and sterilised;
2. Provide separate containers or storage facilities for hearing protective equipment when not in use; and
3. Ensure that all hearing protective equipment not in use is stored only in the place provided for it.
Hearing protection types
Ear Plugs are used in relative low noise level areas and is available in a large variety of shapes and colours. Examples include disposable types, semi-disposable types and permanent moulded pre-shaped plugs.
Ear Muffs fit over and encloses the outer ear and is typically comprised of two cups or shells (of absorbent material) padded for comfort and absorption. These cups are supported by a headband ensuring a secure with some types having the option of being secured to a hard hat.
Variphones or Noise Clippers are hearing protection devices made of silicone and moulded for each individual ear. This type of protection has a device built into the equipment that cuts out all noise above 85dBA but the wearer can still hear sounds below 85dBA.
Continuous – noise that is always there, eg. a running motor or air-conditioning system.
Interrupted – noise that is switched on and off regularly therefore being identified as “breaking the silence”, like switching the radio on and later off or getting into your car and going to work.
Impulse – a very loud noise for a fraction of a second in duration, eg. Gunshot or explosion.
Hearing protection training
It is essential to receive training to determine correct use and maintenance of hearing protection. Typical questions that need clarification are:
Which PPE should be worn for which Decibel levels?
What is the difference in the different types of hearing protection?
How do I insert the ear plugs and variphones/noise-clippers?
How often should I go for audiograms?
What will happen if I show signs of hearing loss?
What are signs and symptoms of possible hearing loss?
How do I clean (sterilise) the equipment?
How do I prevent ear infections?
What do I do if the hearing protection is uncomfortable to wear?
What if I cannot hear my fellow employees when I am wearing the equipment?
If I am already loss some hearing, do I still need to wear hearing protection?
I already have Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, so why should I wear the equipment?
Symbolic Safety Signs
Areas where hearing protection is compulsory to wear are identified by means of a mandatory symbolic safety sign. This sign consists of:
Colour – Blue circle with white border and white pictogram
Shape – Circle
Pictogram – Ear muffs
Noise-rating limit – value of an 8-hour rating level, 85dBA at and above which hearing impairment is likely to result.
Attenuation – a proven capability of reducing the sound exposure to which the wearer thereof is exposed.
Employer’s legal obligation
Employers should ensure that workers are aware of, and able to assess, prevent or manage safety, health, environment and quality risks relevant to their own jobs and workplace.
Workers should be informed in induction training, formal training, job training, and toolbox talks about risk management, by using well researched and simply presented training material, toolbox talks, and posters to sustain risk awareness.
Workers should also have recourse to detailed training material and designated occupational safety, health and environment officials.
Employers have to maintain awareness
Hazards and risks are termed ‘occupational’ when workers are exposed due to a job duty or workplace condition. Legislation identifies major workplace risks, and requires employers to raise and maintain employee awareness of their risks, and support employees in developing a keen sense of risk identification, assessment, and appropriate responses.
A set of sheq theme posters and toolbox talk leaflets is offered by Advantage ACT. The toolbox talks explain each sheq theme in a logical sequence, briefly, and in layman’s terms.
Each poster and two page leaflet, on a separate occupational safety, health, environmental or quality theme, includes basic information to guide skills transfer during toolbox talks or ‘green area’ talks.
Basic aspects of risk legislation, prevention, management and terminology, are spelled out and linked to legislation and best practice standards.
The Advantage ACT sheq posters and toolbox talks, divided into sub sets on safety, health, environment, quality, and PPE, include these themes;
Hazards and risks
Material safety data sheets (MSDSs)
Personal protective equipment (PPE) use
Workplace hygiene and exposure prevention
Environmental impact management
SHEQ system improvement
The set promoting use of personal protective equipment (PPE) responds to employer requests for support in maintaining one of the elements of a good sheq culture.
Every poster in the catalogue is accompanied by a toolbox talk, with information that could be customised and used in newsletters or on intranets.
Quality posters and toolbox talks are a rarity, covering themes on non-conformances, communication, and responding to customer complaints. The posters are all laminated ton ensure long term use.
• Source; Advantage ACT Toolbox Talks © 2010, Revised 2010.06.26, copyright to advantageact.co.za
Advantage ACT’s SHEQ posters each include a Toolbox Talk. Poster sizes and prices are;
A4 at R36
A3 at R66
A2 at R224
A1 at R 344A0 at R524.
Prices exclude VAT, postage and packaging. Minimum order size is 10 posters. Order SHEQ posters from Advantage ACT on 012 809 4210, fax 012 809 4214, firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.safetyposters.co.za
IMAGE; SHEQ poster and toolbox talk example, part of a set of sheq awareness tools developed by Advantage ACT.