When employees are exposed to noise, it can cause them to experience noise-induced hearing loss. By law, noise must be controlled to ensure that employees are protected from unnecessary risk. Too much noise at work can lead to permanent hearing damage and other adverse effects, such as temporary hearing loss, tinnitus, inability to sleep (leading to fatigue, poor concentration levels and increased blood pressure) and stress, so it is imperative that managing noise in the workplace is done in a legal and safe way.
What is the legal requirement?
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Noise Regulations 2005) require employers to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work. Employees also have duties under the Regulations too. The Noise Regulations require you to take specific action at certain action values. These relate to the levels of exposure to noise of your employees averaged over a working day or week; and the maximum noise (peak sound pressure) to which employees are exposed in a working day. The values are:
- Lower exposure action values:
- Daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB(A);
- Peak sound pressure of 135 dB(C);
- Upper exposure action values:
- Daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB(A);
- Peak sound pressure of 137 dB(C).
Under the regulations, employers are legally obliged to assess the risks presented by noise in their workplace and then use appropriate control measures to reduce employees’ exposure to it and employers must also provide employees with information, instruction and training on managing noise in the workplace. By taking the following steps, employers can help protect their staff and the general public against the hazards of excessive noise:
- Conduct a Noise Assessment.
- Take steps to prevent or control the risks.
- Where possible eliminate exposure to noise at source.
- Control exposure to noise,
- Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
- Provide information and training.
- Regularly monitor and review the effectiveness of the measures.
What can employees do to protect themselves?
Employees also have a responsibility to protect themselves. This can be done by co-operating with your employer to do what is needed to protect your hearing:
- Make sure you use any noise control devices (e.g. noise enclosures) properly
- Attend hearing checks. This means you need to take some responsibility for your hearing
- Look out for noise hazard signs on site and obey them
- Do not keep machinery running unnecessarily. Ensure you don’t expose your workmates to your noise. Move the noise source away from the work area or move the work area away from the noise. If possible, shield the noise process by working behind a wall or some other sound- absorbing material.
- Wear any hearing protection you are given. Wear it properly (you should be trained how to do this), and make sure you wear it at all times when you are carrying out noisy work or are in hearing protection areas. Taking it off even for a short while means that your hearing could still be damaged. Remember that there is no cure for deafness.