Ways to prevent NIHL for bar, restaurant, and nightclub workers
Exposure to continuous loud noise at work can cause permanent hearing loss. And it’s not just a risk in traditional noisy workplaces (such as mines, factories, and manufacturing); it can also happen to workers in the hospitality and service industries who work in pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants.
Hospitality industry workers, and especially those who work in pubs or nightclubs, are often exposed to hazardous levels of noise that put them at risk of permanent hearing damage.
Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs can all be noisy enough to damage hearing in unprotected workers. Often noise levels can be above 85 decibels during an eight-hour shift; for instance, if music is playing, espresso coffee machines are brewing, and cutlery and plates are clattering. That’s significant when a typical conversation is around 60 dB(A).
What’s more, the noise level increases thanks to the interior design of many hospitality establishments. Anyone who eats out or frequents coffee shops regularly will have noticed increased noise levels over the last decade. This is because modern, trendy settings tend to favour open spaces and shiny hard surfaces. These reflect sound and amplify noise a lot more than the traditional acoustic ceiling-tiled, carpeted, and linen-wrapped older establishments.
How to prevent hearing loss for hospitality workers
If employers and employees work together, hearing loss is for hospitality workers is preventable.
Employers must understand their responsibilities under the Noise at Work Regulations and other international legislation:
- Employers must carry out a Noise at Work Assessment to understand their staff’s exposure to noise levels.
- Employers are required to make hearing protection available should noise levels reach or exceed 80dB(A), and if they reach or exceed 85 dB(A), they must make their employees wear it.
- Employers should make every effort to reduce noise at the source where possible (and not rely on hearing protection as the ‘go-to solution’.
- Employers should carry out training with staff on the impacts of noise and make available relevant information on the prevention of hearing loss (e.g. the correct way to wear hearing protection).
- Should noise levels regularly exceed 85dB(A), employers should carry out baseline hearing tests when staff are employed, annually after that, and finally when they leave, to establish if any hearing damage has occurred.
- If hearing protection is available, employees must use it.
- Employees must attend training and education sessions when (and if) they are organised for them.
It’s perhaps understandable that bartenders, wait staff, musicians, and other hospitality workers are often reluctant to use hearing protection because they believe that it is uncomfortable, ‘uncool’, and might make it difficult to communicate with their customers. Therefore, for staff working in these noisy environments, it’s vital to choose not only the correct level of attenuation but also a style that is comfortable and that they like.
Employers should provide hearing protection that brings noise levels at the ear down to around 70dB(A). This means choosing hearing protection with an SNR value of between 15-20.
Studies in Canada by WorkSafeBC have shown that when noise levels reach 90 dB(A) or higher, wearing hearing protection actually improves employees’ ability to hear speech since it reduces the distortion our ears receive at high noise volumes. There are also hearing protection devices that employees can wear to cancel out background noise but still allow them to hear what their customers say.
Hearing loss risk
The risk of hearing loss depends on the noise level and employee exposure. The following table shows how long employees without hearing protection can be exposed to noise without risk of hearing loss.
Maximum daily unprotected exposure time by noise level (in dB(A))
|Noise Level (dBA)||Maximum Exposure Time per 24 Hours*|
|85||8 hours (mandatory hearing protection level)|
|130-140||less than 1 second|
|* without hearing protection|
Employers who do nothing about noise control or protecting their employees risk hefty fines for breaching Health and Safety Regulations. Under these regulations, premises must have recently completed a valid risk assessment for noise at work.
Find out more about solutions for NIHL in hospitality
Employers shouldn’t rely on hearing protection alone to protect their workers. In addition, they should have a noise control (hearing conservation) program that includes:
- Identifying what the noise levels are, and their sources
- Providing education and training
- Looking for engineered noise control solutions (e.g. acoustic panels) or natural solutions (e.g. soft furnishings and carpets), and
- Keeping records of hearing tests results.
Avenue Interior Systems has a range of solutions to help protect workers. Reach out to us today on 1300 827 177.