The real impact of hearing loss

The reclassification of hearing protection is more than just an increase in its PPE status

The EU’s new PPE Regulation identifies workplace noise as a significant health risk, prompting a category change for hearing protection. There are much wider consequences of hearing loss which are currently not being adequately discussed that have implications to the individual, their quality of life and the impact noise induced hearing loss can have on them and their family.

Hearing protection has been changed from Category II to Category III under the new PPE regulations 2016/425 where it joins equipment designed to protect against serious risks such as falls from height, chainsaw cuts and contact with substances hazardous to health. This means that products are now classed as complex PPE which require on-going surveillance testing and not just when the CE is passed. It also escalates the severity or impact of the consequences of the risk e.g. CAT III applies to risks that may cause very serious consequences, such as death or irreversible damage to health.

The new regulation is a binding legislative Act which is applied automatically to the whole of the EU. This differs from a directive which needs to be transposed into each member states national law. The change is a wakeup call for both employers and employees who may suffer from excess noise and underlines the need for employers to communicate and consult with their workforce about noise levels.

Download our guide to the reclassification of hearing protection

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PPE CategoryCategory DescriptionActivityAbove-the-neck PPE Product Examples
Category ISimple PPE
(PPE designed to protect users against minimal risks)
Placing product on the market – manufacturers self-declarationSweatbands
Cold Weather Hood System
Sun Capes
Category IIIntermediate PPE
(PPE not covered within category I or III)
Initial Product approvalSafety spectacles
Industrial helmets
Bump caps
Category IIIComplex PPE
(PPE falling under this category includes exclusively the risks that may cause very serious consequences such as death or irreversible damage to health)
On-going surveillance through testing or factory auditingRespiratory PPE
Industrial helmets claiming Molten Metal and Electrical Resistance (EU) 2016/425 PPE Regulation change: Hearing Protection

What do the changes mean?

The category change for hearing protection immediately places more emphasis on the employer to correctly identify and assess the noise levels that employees are exposed to and - should the noise exposure prove to be excessive to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations exposure limits - must act upon it accordingly.

Timeframe for the new 2016/425 PPE Regulation
From 21st April 2019 Regulation (EU) 2016/425 is fully applicable as the sole regulation covering the design, manufacture and supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the European Union.

Timeline of the regulation changes for hearing protection

Benefits of the new (EU) 2016/425 PPE Regulation

The main benefit of this change is elevating the profile of hearing protection, and therefore hearing loss, resulting in better protected wearers. It will also further help to improve the safety of the products on the market, eliminating counterfeit or poor quality products by ensuring that all PPE brought into the European market conforms to the new Regulation and is therefore to a relevant and current Standard. Where products are Category III, this will also ensure that the products continue to meet the requirements of the Standard and have not just been tested once when the product was initially submitted for CE approval.

Shared responsibility
The new Regulation will apply to the entire supply chain including importers, distributors and resellers rather than focusing just on manufacturers. All parties will be required to take appropriate measures to ensure the PPE meets the latest Standards. Importers and distributors will be obliged not to resell any PPE that they believe does not meet EU Standards, but to report it to the relevant national authority.

The wider implications of hearing loss

There are wider consequences to hearing loss which are not always discussed due to the low profile hearing protection tends to receive. These can have a big impact on not only the individual and their quality of life but also their family.

Hearing loss can cause feelings of alienation

Socio

  • Impact on family life
  • Impact on life quality and lifestyle
  • Risk of alienation
  • Speech deterioration
Potential loss of earnings from hearing loss

Economic

  • Potential loss of income
  • Reduced productivity
  • Cost to the employer in individual hearing aids
Not hearing alarms can lead to danger

Risks

  • Failure to hear alarms = danger
  • Failure to hear instructions = frustration

Contrary to popular belief, hearing loss is not inevitable. It can be prevented by identifying the exposure levels, reducing the risk of harmful noise at source or by wearing adequate and suitable hearing protection which has been backed up by support and training in the correct fitting and wearing.

What makes this workplace risk uniquely dangerous?

  • It is invisible and therefore, not always given the attention it deserves
  • Because hearing loss is progressive, it is harder to recognise
  • It is not widely known that hearing loss is irreversible
  • We adjust to noise - even excessive noise - which becomes the new norm
  • Hearing loss doesn't hurt
  • It is part of the aging process…… isn’t it?

How much noise is too much noise?

It is essential to protect our ears from harmful levels of noise, but how do we know what is a “harmful level”? The maximum periods of time a person should be exposed to harmful noise per day without hearing protection can be surprising:

What is a safe amount of sound exposure?

Next steps

It is crucial that hearing protectors are fitted correctly and worn when they need to be otherwise we almost might as well not bother. This is where the importance of proper information, education and training is vital for wearers. uvex offers effective training packages which highlight the health benefits of protecting employees from hearing loss. Following a noise assessment, our professionals are available to guide you through the process of selecting the right hearing protection based on noise exposure levels and delivering training to ensure correct fitting for maximum protection and comfort. To find the right hearing protection for your workplace noise levels contact us using the quick form below:

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