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
  • Daen
    Re: Sickness: Your Rights
    I have been employed for 13 years. I have been on the sick depression and anxiety caused by bullying, they talking about dismissal through…
    5 August 2020
  • Cassie
    Re: Can my Employer Fire Me?
    I want to ask something if i informed my work that i hve problems at home an i cant always go in to work an they hve a problem with me…
    4 August 2020
  • Millie
    Re: Zero Hours Contracts Explained
    For 8 weeks I have been covering the "weekends" of another employee, Tue/Wed 9-5. My the owner or manager always confirms this…
    4 August 2020
  • Dan
    Re: Zero Hours Contracts Explained
    Hi, In my place of work, which is a very busy pizza shop, we are given shifts (for example 3pm-8pm) but when it reaches the end…
    4 August 2020
  • vicky
    Re: Objecting to Changes in an Employment Contract
    our company has been taken over and they have decided to change our pay to salaried which is fine ,my issue…
    4 August 2020
  • vinni
    Re: Eligibility To Work In The UK
    i am working in Thailand and now i want to work in UK having many position which i qualified but due to 'Right Of Work' status I…
    4 August 2020
  • dee
    Re: Exemptions to the Smoking Ban
    I bought my flat from the council last November when a new resident moved into the flat below, shortly before the paperwork went…
    3 August 2020
  • Melvon Patterson
    Re: Can my Employer Fire Me?
    I have been given a gross misconduct charge for health and safety breach I walked on pallets to put stickers on to be shelved but there…
    3 August 2020
  • Gamara
    Re: Employment Probation Periods: What You Need to Know
    My 3 month's probation period was due to end on the 6th April, however my workplace closed its doors…
    2 August 2020
  • Arun
    Re: Standing for Long Periods
    It is so sad to read about the workers who are working for long hours standing with pain. I really felt very sad after reading the…
    2 August 2020