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3M backs revised HSE guidance to tackle exposure to noise in the food and beverage industry

03 July 2015

Protecting workers from exposure to excessive noise should be a focus for employers in the food and beverage industry, according to updated guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

In the second edition of A Recipe For Safety, published this year, the authority  urges that companies do not forget the ‘health’ part of ‘health and safety’ to prevent long-latency diseases caused at work. 

This includes unnecessarily exposing people to loud noises while in the workplace – a move welcomed by diversified technology company 3M. 

Due to the variety of processes the sector covers, many employees are likely to be subjected to loud noises which could cause permanent harm. 

Most food and beverage manufacturing organisations use processes that emit noise exceeding the 80dB(A) and 85db(A) levels at which employers are legally required to take action. These include glass bottling lines, packaging machinery and milling operations.

Currently more than 17,000 people in the UK suffer from deafness or tinnitus because of workplace noise . These two conditions are the most common, but the harmful effects of noise can also lead to a number of other serious issues such as depression.

However, as hearing dangers are invisible and the effects are not immediate they do not always receive the appropriate attention as health hazards. 

Malcolm Thompson, Hearing and Communications Specialist at 3M, hopes the focus from the HSE will “encourage employers to better protect their staff”. 

He said: “In my experience, the problem with personal protective equipment (PPE) in the food industry is that hearing protection tends to be the last thing thoughts about. Employees are being told they have to wear protection for their eyes, hands, lungs as well as ears. 

“With all this PPE to wear the hearing protection sometimes gets left out. This is because if an employee gets something in their eyes or cuts their hand they know instantly but, with noise, the damage is not immediately apparent so may be disregarded. 

“Sadly, by the time hearing damage is noticeable, it is irreversible.”

Ignoring the issue can also impact on the level of safety in the workplace and may contribute to accidents. , Loud noises can mask safety warnings and can cause fatigue and loss of concentration. 
3M is well-placed to offer expert advice and guidance to employers looking to purchase PPE to reduce noise exposure. As part of the company’s extensive Hearing Conservation Programme, the process of choosing the correct PPE is explained to employers step-by-step. 

The hazard is identified, the correct equipment is then selected, training on how to use it is given and validation to ensure it is offering the correct level of protection can be considered. 
When purchasing PPE for hearing, it is critical to select equipment that offers the correct level of protection for the task at hand. 

Whilst Martin often finds that protecting employees from noise is an after-thought he has also found that, in some cases, workers are overprotected. 

He said: “I sometimes find in the food industry that employers, knowing they have to protect their workers from loud noises, go out and buy the highest level attenuating product available. 
“But this actually leads to overprotection, which may also bring problems. Removing too much noise can result in people being isolated from what is taking place around them.

“When workers are fitted with the right level of protection they can hear things they didn’t hear previously. This may seem odd at first, but it is correct. It is imperative for health and safety reasons that workers can hear alarms and people calling them, whether it’s down the production line or in case of an emergency.”

Alongside the Hearing Conservation Programme, 3M also partnered with the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) to provide a highly accessible, interactive e-learning programme, which explains the importance of hearing conservation and helps employers to meet their health and safety obligations effectively. 

It comes in four ‘bite-sized' sections:
• Hearing hazards and risks
• Monitoring exposure and risk assessment
• Noise control and hearing protection
• Using health surveillance to influence behaviours.

The e-learning package is presented in jargon-free, everyday language and is always readily accessible. Given the prevalence of noise-related risks in the food and drinks sector, it meets a pressing need and brings key benefits to employers and employees alike. To find out more and to purchase the e-learning programme, please visit

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