Home > Workplace Safety > Handling Noise in the Workplace

Handling Noise in the Workplace

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 27 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Workplace Noise Levels Hearing Damage

Exposure to loud noise can cause permanent damage to your hearing. It may be temporary but it can often be permanent. It can take the form of hearing loss but can also result in sensations of permanent noise or ringing in the ears, known as 'tinnitus', which can prove even more distressing.

Employers have a legal duty to reduce the risk of hearing damage to their employees and there are actions which must be taken if noise exceeds certain defined limits.

What Are These Limits?

They are based around the concept of 'Action Levels' - the level at which action must be taken to reduce the harmful effects to those who would be exposed to the noise.

The first action level is set at 85dB (decibels) averaged over an 8 hour day. At this level, an employer must provide information and training to employees on the health implications associated with noise. They must also make hearing protection equipment available.

The second action level is set at 90dB. Above this level, an employer must do all that is reasonably practicable to reduce noise levels, using whatever control measures are available. Until effective controls can be implemented, use of hearing protection is mandatory. Each affected area must be declared a mandatory noise zone with appropriate Safety Signs put up and there must be regular health surveillance.

To give you an idea:

  • A normal conversation can register between 50dB and 60dB
  • A busy high street might register between 78dB and 85dB
  • A chainsaw can register between 115dB and 120dB

Noise Risk Assessment

The first step is to carry out a noise Risk Assessment if there is reason to believe that noise may exceed the first action level. A rough indication of when this level has been reached is when people have difficulty conducting a conversation at a range of about 2 metres apart. All findings must be properly documented, including the actual exposure calculations where they exceed the first action level. Then an action plan must be produced and the information made available to those who could be exposed to the risks.

Noise Protection

Once the noise level exceeds the first action level, an employer must provide hearing protection if an employee requests it. Should the noise exceed the second level, then an employer has to provide hearing protection whether or not it has been requested. They must also do all that is reasonably practical to ensure that employees use it properly and if employees refuse to comply, disciplinary action can be taken.

Various types of hearing protection are available, depending on the environment in which the noise is occurring. However, some basic requirements must be met namely:

  • It must be at least effective enough to reduce noise exposure below the second action level
  • It must be compatible with any other kind of personal protection which may be in use
  • It must be suitable for the circumstances and environment in which it is going to be used

How Dangerous Can Noise be?

Apart from the risk of hearing damage, whether temporary or permanent, there are other risks associated with excess noise in the workplace. It interferes with communication in general and makes it more difficult to hear warning signals and alarms. Noise can also be a distraction, particularly sudden loud sounds which can startle people who are working around potentially dangerous machinery. Moreover, noise is often cited in stress complaints.

Prevention First

It is important to emphasise that Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) should only ever be considered as a last resort. Firstly, employers should seek to eliminate or reduce the intensity of the noise by engineering measures and/or reduce the amount of time that employees are exposed to it. Noise can present a real hazard in the workplace and its effects may take some time to become evident, but when they do, it is often too late to do anything about it.

As an important health and safety issue, noise is a prime example of 'Prevention being better than Cure'.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Mart
    Re: Holiday Pay & Overtime: The Changes
    I work in the security area. My rota is 4 on 4 off nights. However i usually work around 25 shifts per month.…
    17 April 2019
  • Leonardo
    Re: Violence at Work
    I was a victim on March 27, 2019 in workplace, one of my colleagues, was thrown, kicked my buckets and pour water on the ground in the presence of…
    16 April 2019
  • Branchy
    Re: Working At Night
    I work permanent 12 hour nights - 3 days per week - 36 hours per week. How is my average worked out for the no more than 8 hours in 24 over a 17…
    12 April 2019
  • Shiva
    Re: Employer Has Changed My Shifts: What Are My Rights?
    Hi I have been working for job and talent agency from 2018 October 20. Then last couple of weeks I…
    12 April 2019
  • Vicky
    Re: Safe Working Temperatures
    I work in a mill cleaning for 4 hours in a morning, there is no air con and I'm not allowed a break, is there a law that states I cant…
    11 April 2019
  • Jimmy
    Re: Working At Night
    Hi I work night is it legal to work a 12 hour shift then an hour after finishing being told to do a days training
    11 April 2019
  • Missjane
    Re: Zero Hours Contracts Explained
    My work place has closed for a refurbishment and I am a working mother 9-3 mon -Friday they r closed and have shipped us out to…
    9 April 2019
  • Nicky P
    Re: When Your Employer Changes Your Working Hours
    Hi there, I currently work at a hotel (worked there for a year) that is beside the restaurant that I have…
    9 April 2019
  • Moi
    Re: Can my Employer Fire Me?
    My manager was leaving the restaurant I work at , before he left he told all staff to stay and have a drink , which we did , a new…
    8 April 2019
  • Upset
    Re: Cancer: Your Rights as an Employee
    My Rota as been messed about with while I 've been off and now I have a really crap Rota I have complained but we're do I…
    8 April 2019