Noise management in the RMG sector
Today's RMG is haunted by safety issues. Noise pollution is one of them. But, who cares? Violation of compliance issues, lack of safety awareness and insufficient training are the most influential causes of safety collapse in the ready-made garments industry in Bangladesh. Therefore, a sustainable noise management system is a crying need to have an authentic guideline to implement the core concept of occupational health and safety in the workplace.
Though ILO imposes a permissible exposure limit of 85-90 decibels (measured as an 8-hour time-weighted average), it has often violated in the garments industry. If the noise at the ready-made garments industry is 90 decibels or more here in Bangladesh, concerned authorities of the factory are required to provide a hearing conservation program to protect their workers from hearing loss.
The significant role of an occupational health and safety officer cannot be denied to ensure worker's safe and secured working environment of an organization and so, he is responsible for overall planning and implementation of safety policy. In order to materialize an organizational safety policy, he needs to conduct employee training on the company's safety protocols. Here, live demonstrations with opportunity for hands on practice can further enhance workplace safety.
Occupational safety and health professionals all over the world study how to reduce or eliminate the impact of noise hazards in the workplace. They use the hierarchy of controls to determine how to implement practical and effective risk management procedures to tackle noise-related issues.
Here, elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls and the use of PPE are the integral parts of noise controls hierarchy which are given below:
Elimination: It is the most effective way to prevent risks to workers; it is a process that eradicates the noise hazards from the work source which should always be considered especially to introducing a new work process, selecting new work equipment and designing the layout of the workstations. Moreover, noise elimination will include avoiding the use of noisy processes or machinery and the noisy operations away from other work activities.
Advance planning and applying effective policy are essential to reducing the level of noise at work. Pragmatic initiatives need to be taken at an early stage how the new work process or new machinery would work without creating excessive noise for the workers and these are the most cost-effective and long-term measure that can obviously reduce overall noise levels from the workplace.
Substitution: It is a process of replacing noisy machinery or equipment with quieter alternatives. When elimination process is not possible, substitution of the noisy machinery or equipment is the next-best alternative to protect workers from the ominous impact of noise. OSH professionals always consider alternative equipment and work processes which would make the jobless noisy and comfortable to perform.
Keeping touch with up-to-date applicable standards and industry good practice both are the important factors to reducing noise impact in the workplace. Performing a task differently and effectively can also protect the workers from noise exposure -- for example, the use of hydraulic processes to bend material produces less noise than hammering.
Engineering controls: These are the first and the best effective strategy to control the hazard at its source which depends on the technical mechanism. The concept of engineering controls involve in design changes, modifying or replacing equipment or making other physical changes at the noise source or along the transmission path that can reduce the noise level at the worker's ear.
The work environment and the job itself should be designed to eliminate hazards or reduce the impact of hazards. But, sometimes a relatively simple engineering noise control solution can often eliminate a noise hazard.
Examples of engineering controls can include:(1) Reducing noisy machine operations by replacing low-noise tools and machineries.
(2) Adding noise barriers, noise enclosures, vibration isolation mountings, laggings, mufflers and silencers where appropriate to reduce noise at source.
(3) Redesigning machinery power sources to give quiet speed regulation.
(4) Avoiding metal-to-metal contact by using plastic bumpers.
(5) Separating the noisy area by a sound-reducing partition.
(6) Repairing loose and rotating parts.
(7) Keeping regular monitoring and maintenance.
Administrative controls: These are changes in the workplace that reduce or eliminate worker exposure to noise hazards such as:(1) Operate noisy machines during shifts when fewer people are exposed.
(2) By applying job rotation policy.
(3) Limit the amount of time a person spends near a noise hazard.
(4) Provide quiet areas where workers can gain relief from noise hazards.
(5) Restrict how close a worker can get to a noise hazard.
Therefore, controlling noise hazard exposure through maintaining a distance from the noise hazard is often an effective, simple and inexpensive administrative control.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): It is the last resort of safety hierarchy. Dyeing, knitting, finishing and the generator room are most vulnerable place of noise pollution in the ready-made garments industry in Bangladesh. Here, earmuffs and earplugs are considered an acceptable but less desirable option for controlling noise hazards in the workplace.
Generally, workers use PPE when they are temporarily victim of noise hazards. PPEs are also used when a worker already has significant hearing damage. But, once precious sense of hearing is damaged or lost, it can never be regained. By taking precautionary methods in the workplace, noise hazards can be eliminated where possible and prevent workers from gaining temporary or permanent hearing loss and damage.
In these circumstances, we need a sustainable as well as an effective hearing conservation programme. Key elements of an effective hearing conservation program should include the following elements:
(1) Conducting workplace noise sampling.
(2) Alternative ways to measure noise include sound level meters, which measure sound intensity at a moment in time and dosimeters, which measure a person's average exposure to noise over time.
(3) Another approach is to conduct risk assessments to evaluate the level of noise generated by each specific task at the work site.
(4) Monitoring the noise measurement process.
(5) Ensuring the workers audiometric testing program (hearing tests) which provides a professional evaluation of the health effects of noise on worker's hearing.
(6) Selecting and evaluating hearing protection PPEs correctly based upon individual fit and the manufacturers testing.
(7) Isolating the worker from the noise by using an enclosure.
(8) Providing worker's training on "essential occupational health and safety".
In fact, a robust noise management system is the precondition to have a sustainable occupational health and safety basement in the ready-made garments industry in Bangladesh. But, poor safety procedure, insufficient potential resources such as equipment, trained personnel and supplies have weakened our safety management. Therefore, a well-planned concept of noise management policy is a crying need to protect our workers as well as our sustainable industry.
The author is Assistant Deputy Secretary, BKMEA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org