The risks to young people at work vary depending on role, sector and environment, but one of the most significant risks that they face is noise. However, there is little noise advice available specifically for young people. Many workplaces expose young workers to high levels of noise for prolonged periods, which can cause permanent damage to hearing, increase levels of stress and anxiety, increase the risk of having an accident and increase the risk of other health problems such as high blood pressure. Hearing loss is one of the most common occupational disorders, and young workers are particularly vulnerable to it.
A fact sheet by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) entitled “Noise – advice for young workers” outlines how the ear works, the dangers of noise at work and how it is measured, how European law sets a daily limit for exposure to loud noise and the main risks associated with noise. The fact sheet also highlights the steps your employer should take to protect you. There is also a useful section on the symptoms of noise damage and how to tell if you are affected.
Many young workers are exposed to high noise levels and may suffer ringing, whining or buzzing noises in the ears, pain in the ears, the feeling of having cotton wool in the ears or have difficulties hearing after the noise has stopped. If you suffer any of these symptoms, leave the noisy environment immediately and give your ears some rest. The longer you are exposed to loud noise, the more likely it is that you will suffer hearing loss. For this reason, noise measurement and noise limits in the workplace are usually given in relation to the amount of time during which you are exposed to noise.
Noise is measured in decibels(dB) – the higher the number, the more intense the sound. There are various techniques for measuring sound that are normally identified by adding a letter after dB, for example dB(A). Workplace noise limits are normally given as a time-weighted average – the average noise level over a time period, for example 87 dB(A) averaged over 8 hours. If you work in an area where the noise is louder than 87 dB(A), then the length of time you can work here before the limit is exceeded becomes shorter.
European law sets a daily limit for exposure to loud noise. A worker must not be exposed to over 87dB(A) averaged over an 8-hour period. There are also peak noise level limits that can be measured as pressure (Pa) rather than as sound (dB). Different EU Member States may have different noise levels, so you need to check which apply to your workplace. Generally, if you have difficulty being heard clearly by someone about two metres away from you, then you may have a noise problem at work.
Regulations in Europe mean that employers must ensure that young people under the age of 18 do not carry out tasks in which there is a risk to health from extreme cold or heat, or from noise or vibration. (These regulations are based on European Union Council Directive 94/33/EC of 22 June 1994, on the protection of young people at work).
Regulations that apply to all workers mean that employers must prevent risks to hearing, arising or likely to arise from exposure to noise at work. (These regulations are based on European Union Directive 86/188/EEC of 12 May 1986 on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to noise at work ).
Those who employ young people are obliged under law to ensure their safety. Employers also have a role to play in helping young workers understand the importance of health and safety at work.
Contains information published by EU_OSHA: Copyright 1998-2016 European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
PPE.ORG is a media partner of EU-OSHA.
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