Noise at work can cause hearing damage and loss. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) research puts the number of workers exposed to high noise levels in the UK at two million.
Noise management and control is therefore a serious issue for employers and staff. Hearing damage and loss is often permanent. And yet it’s relatively easy to prevent.
The law that governs noise management and control is the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. These regulations use a European Union Directive as their basis. They do not apply to any member of the public who experiences noise as part of an activity unrelated to work.
The regulations replaced the Noise at Work Regulations 1989. They introduced four main changes to the law:
- The action values for peak noise are now 135 dB and 137dB.
- The action values for daily exposure to noise are down to 80 dB and 85dB.
- The new exposure limit values are 87 dB for day-to-day exposure, and 140dB for peak noise. These values allow for hearing protection. Noise at work must never exceed them.
- Employers must provide health checks if there is a danger to health caused by noise.
Employers must use the values given above to assess, manage and control noise at work. They must recognise noise hazards and judge the exposure of workers to such noise. They must also have a written action plan to cut back or remove noise hazards; manage workers’ exposure to the hazards; and safeguard workers’ hearing.
Employers must take positive steps to remove or reduce noise in the workplace. They should seek out the best practice that applies to their business environments. They must also use established management and control solutions.
In some businesses, the risk of hearing damage and loss at work is particularly high. If so, employers should introduce the technical and management changes that control the noise. These changes must ensure that noise does not exceed the exposure limit values laid down in the law.
Practical measures include supplying workers with hearing protection; managing this protection with noise zones, supervision and training; and ensuring that the use of hearing protection is obligatory in high-risk situations.
Worker training is vital if noise management and control measures are to succeed. Employers should also consult with workers to make sure they are fully aware of the purpose of noise control and the dangers of excessive noise.
Employers should put in place hearing checks for all employees who work in noisy environments.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employees also have a responsibility for their own health. They must attend hearing checks when asked to do so and follow health and safety guidelines.
Sometimes, badly Maintained Equipment can be excessively noisy. Employers must arrange to put this right, and workers must report faulty equipment promptly. Employers should also ensure that workers use equipment correctly.
Workplaces change over time. Employers must ensure that any changes take account of noise hazards. They must also look at any new management and control arrangements that cut back on the risks excessive noise can bring.