Food Manufacturing

Hearing Screening in the Workplace, Food Manufacturing

Posted By Kerry Budworth on 2015-08-11 21:05

Noise Induced Hearing Loss At Work

The exposure to noise at work can cause irreversible hearing damage to employees. Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is one of the most common occupational health problems. It can also be one of the most difficult to detect as the effects on hearing build up gradually over a long period of time.

A Problem For Every Industry

Across all industry, industrial hearing loss remains the occupational disease with the highest number of civil claims. NIHL accounts for about 75% of all occupational disease claims. It is a huge cost to industry between payouts and legal costs. A cost that can be avoided with the right occupational healthcare strategy in place. 

NIHL in the Food Manufacture Industry

Nearly all food and drink industries have processes which emit high noise levels. Many of these noise levels exceed the 80dB(A) and 85dB(A) levels at which employers are required to take action under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

Work Can Be a Noisy Place

Food Manufacturer lines are noisy places, for example, noise levels of 85-95dB(A) often occur in the bakery, dairy and confectionery industries. The noise level can rise to 100dB(A) in milling, drink production and the meat industry.

Dangerous Food Manufacturing Processes

On the HSE website, there are nine processes listed that are particularly associated with high noise levels in the workplace. The inclusion of these manufacturing processes is supported by hearing loss civil claim data from one of the main trade unions representing workers in the food and drink industries. The processes are listed below:

  1. Glass bottling lines: 85-100dB(A)
  2. Product impact on hoppers: 90-100dB(A)
  3. Wrapping, cutting wrap, bagging etc: 85-95dB(A)
  4. Bowl choppers: > 90db(A)
  5. Pneumatic noise and compressed air: 85-95dB(A)
  6. Milling operations: 85-100dB(A)
  7. Saws/cutting machinery: 85-107dB(A)
  8. Blast chillers/freezers: 85-107dB(A)
  9. Packaging machinery: 85-95dB(A)
  10. Wheeled trolleys/racks: up to 107dB(A) (from wheel bearings)

Managing The Risk

We are aware there is a risk to health, so therefore it is inherent to manage the risk. Protection of your workforce is best achieved by making every effort to control the noise at source. The HSE recommends following the sequence below to reduce exposure:

  1. When purchasing machinery or plant, obtain noise data from the supplier to inform your decision. The noise levels should be relevant to where workers will actually be.
  2. Move noisy machinery/plant into areas where there are no workers, or few workers (eg into an outbuilding or dedicated room)
  3. Where noisy machinery/plant has to remain in the working area, enclose it within a sound-insulating enclosure if possible. Anti-vibration machine mountings may also be required.
  4. Where enclosure is not possible, reduce noise by other engineering means such as:
    1. lining guards/panels with noise dampening material
    2. providing acoustic screens
    3. lining the inside of hoppers with impact-deadening material
    4. fitting anti-vibration mountings
    5. fitting silencers to exhaust systems
    6. ensuring good maintenance to stop rattles and prevent noise from wear.
  5. Where noise levels still exceed 85dB(A) ensure workers wear hearing protection (earplugs or earmuffs) within the designated and clearly marked zones.
  6. Duration of exposure can be reduced by job rotation or providing a noise refuge.

Occupational Health Strategy

In order to protect both your employees and your business you need to set out a clear occupational health strategy that includes processses and procedures that protect your employees from NIHL. As part of this process you should undertake health surveillance of your employees and offer certified hearing protection to protect the hearing of the employees who are most at risk.

Health Surveillance For NIHL

Health surveillance is undertaken to monitor the ongoing health or a facet of the ongoing health of an employee as part of an occupational health strategy. Health surveillance for NIHL usually means:

  • regular hearing checks in controlled conditions;
  • telling employees about the results of their hearing checks;
  • keeping health records;
  • ensuring employees are examined by a doctor where hearing damage is identified.

Ideally, health surveillance is begun before people are exposed to noise (ie for new starters or those changing jobs). Doing so gives you an important baseline of someone's ability to hear before they begin to work for you. It can, however, be introduced at any time for existing employees who have already been exposed to noise.

The initial hearing screening in the workplace should be followed by a regular series of checks, usually annually for the first two years of employment and then at three-yearly intervals (although this depends if any problem with hearing is detected or where the risk of hearing damage is high). 

You, as the employer, have the responsibility for making sure the health surveillance is carried out properly. For this reason alone you should always use professional occupational health service providers with a verifiable track record. HealthScreen can provide health surveillance services in the workplace. The purpose of that health surveillancewill be to:

  • warn you when employees might be suffering from early signs of hearing damage;
  • give you an opportunity to do something to prevent the damage getting worse;
  • check that control measures are working.

You should consult your trade union safety representative, or employee representative and the employees concerned before introducing health surveillance. It is important that your employees understand that the aim of health surveillance is to protect their hearing. You will need their understanding and co-operation if health surveillance is to be effective.

Noise Protection in the Workplace

HealthScreen can also manage the use and provision of hearing protection so that “reasonable care” can be legally demonstrated from the initial assessment.  We can advise on such areas of suitability and sufficiency, frequency attentuation, medical exemption from PPE and in the event of all other types of PPE being unsuitable we can mould employees ears  in order that they can have personalised hearing protection. 

We undertake our services with the minmum amount of fuss and disruption to your staff and your work schedule. If you are interested in hearing screening in the workplace, noise protection to protect your employees, looking for health & Safety services in Leicester, or you are looking for help with your health and safety strategy, call us on 01455 234 600 to discuss your needs or contact us online.

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