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Using interactive noise warning signs to protect workers hearing

Picture this, you’ve just completed your noise assessment, and you found several areas of your workplace where any number of your employees are likely to be exposed to levels of noise at or above the Upper Action Value (UAV) of 85dB(A). What now? Issue your employees with hearing protection, job done. Easy right?

Err, well no…actually.

Whilst arming your workforce with hearing protection seems the simplest way to do this – and in fact, many employers often attribute the success of their health and safety programme to this distribution of hearing protection – according to the HSE and the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 this should be the last resort. The Regulations state that if, after having explored and carried out all the technical and organisational ways to reduce noise in the workplace, you identify that employees will still be exposed to noise levels at or above the Lower Action Value (LAV) of 80 dB(A), then and only then will you need to provide them with hearing protection.

Wearing hearing defenders all day? No way!

Wearing ear defenders is not always popular with staff exposed to industrial noise, it can cause feelings of isolation from other workers and lower morale if they just can’t communicate with others. This often means workers won’t wear them properly (or in the worst cases at all!).

Putting up standard printed “Hearing Protection Must Be Worn” signs means that employees have to follow it continuously in these zones and someone has to monitor the people to make sure they comply with the instruction. And it just might not be practical for employees to wear hearing protection constantly, especially where the noise levels are intermittent or vary significantly over the day.

A practical alternative: Noise-Activated Warning Signs

Noise-activated warning signs, like the Pulsar SafeEar, provide an alternative temporary warning linked to real-time noise levels and can, therefore, help to better manage the wearing of PPE. The way such signs work is that the Employer sets a trigger level of say 80 dB(A), once noise reaches that level the sign will light up its warning. Such signs therefore effectively allow the marking of an area as “Hearing Protection Mandatory Only When Lit”.

These interactive noise warning signs offer the advantage then, that hearing protection need only be worn when necessary. Using hearing protection only when levels require means companies placing less reliance on using PPE as a noise control measure, more comfort for workers and less work-place isolation.

Key uses of interactive noise warning signs

  • Tell workers when to put on hearing protection and when it’s safe to take it off.
  • Use signs to mark out multiple zones and use PPE only when those lights are on.
  • Use secondary (or remote) units positioned outside of rooms or zones to warn office workers and visitors ‘passing through’ when noisy processes inside require them to wear hearing PPE.
  • Select the correct message for the noise environment. Four standard messages are available suitable for quiet and noisy environments.

Download our Employer’s Guide: How to use interactive noise warning signs effectively

Setting the correct trigger levels

Setting the right noise limit for your SafeEar Noise-Activated Warning Sign is a vital step in the installation. The difference between setting the right level for your environment and the wrong level is that either the signs are triggered too often and is flash your chosen message all the time, or they are not triggered at all.

Here are some of our recommendations for noise trigger levels for some common situations and environments:

Sound environment Noise Limits (decibels (dB))
Light industry and laboratories (no noisy machinery) 65 -75
Factories with noisy machinery 79 – 85
Music venues (concert halls, rehearsal rooms, for example) 92 – 105

If your installation is for a Noise at Work application, you should also take account of the action values and limits imposed by the Control of Noise at Work Regulations. In all likelihood this means setting the SafeEar to trigger at or just below 80dB(A) so people know when to put on their ear muffs for example.

Double the distance, halve the noise

It is important that the SafeEar is installed in the right location and that is set to light up at the correct sound level based on where people are working. If you double the distance from the noise source you halve the noise level, this equates to a drop of 3dB (every time you double the distance from the source). Therefore, the further the sign is from the noise source, the lower the trigger level should be set. For example:

Distance from noise source Decibel level (dB(A))
0 m (noise measured at source) 90
1 m 87
2 m 84
4 m 81
8 m 78

Using the table above. If the noise source is 90dB(A) but the sign is 8 m away, you would set the trigger level at 78dB(A) to tell workers that they need to put on their hearing protection.

This relies on you knowing the noise level of the noise source and the level of noise at peoples work stations; the best way to find this out is by using a sound level meter, and then you can adjust the signs to light up accordingly.

Find out more information on the 3dB Rule here.

Do interactive hearing protection signs work?

Yes. Just using hearing protection for the noisiest activities is usually enough to bring your LEP,d down to the required levels i.e. 80dB(A) or less.

In addition, some signs can also be used to log data and store noise levels and therefore give an indication of noise levels over time. Enabling the Employer to keep track of problem areas and investigate issues to prevent high levels of noise exposure in workers. 

This should all lead to a better understanding of noise issues affecting workers and also a reduction in the use of hearing PPE and reliance on it as a catch-all solution.

The Weatherproof SafeEars are suitable for both indoor and outside use as they are water resistant and dustproof. The extra-large SafeEar Max sign is ideal for use outdoor on construction sites as it comes with a 110v site power supply.  Optional accessories such as red or blue flashing beacons help make our signs even more visible to people.

Want to know more?

Pulsar Instruments has been helping companies around the world measure and manage occupational, industrial and environmental noise for over 50 Years by providing affordable, robust, accurate and easy to use noise measurement devices.

Download our Employer’s Guide: How to use interactive noise warning signs effectively.

We know what works and we’re here to help you. Contact us today.

Email: sales@pulsarinstruments.com

Visit: www.pulsarinstruments.com

Phone: +44 (0)1723 518011

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