Noise At Work - An Information Bulletin

It has been known for many years that exposure to sudden loud noises such as gunshots or explosions can cause hearing loss.

However, most cases of deafness at work arise from long term exposure to relatively low levels that cause irreparable damage to the cilea, hair cells in the cochlea, which transmit vibrations to the brain.

The EU produced a Directive on exposure to noise at work, which the UK implemented as the Noise at Work Regulations. These set action levels at which certain duties become mandatory.

Legal requirements

The Noise at Work Regulations require an employer to control the exposure of their employees to excessive noise levels based on a formal hazard identification and risk assessment process. They also establish mandatory action levels.

Actions

  • If you suspect that employees may be exposed to levels in excess of 80dB(A) for a period of 8 hours or more there is a requirement to evaluate this exposure.

  • Note that the dB(A) scale is logarithmic and an increase of 3dB(A) represents a doubling of the noise level.

  • The assessments should be carried out by a competent person using appropriate equipment to measure noise levels in an area of the actual exposure to employees.

  • Should the exposure be between 80 – 85dB(A) employees must be informed and offered hearing protection to wear at their discretion.

  • Should the exposure exceed 85dB(A) the area should be designated a hearing protection zone and controls should be put in place to reduce the exposure and employees must wear appropriate hearing protection.

  • Control measures should be based on a hierarchy of controls;

    • Elimination

    • Isolation/enclosure of the noise source of the workers affected.

    • Control at source, e.g. by use of absorbent mounting for machinery, silencers for compressed air lines etc.

    • Increasing the distance from the noise source – doubling the distance between the source and the person halves the exposure.

    • Administrative controls, e.g. job rotation, improved maintenance.

    • Hearing protection which must only be used as a temporary or supplementary measure, not the primary control.

  • Provision of information, instruction and training, to include:

    • Information on the hazards and the potential effects.

    • Instruction on the use of the control measures selected.

    • Training in how to use the controls correctly.

  • Monitoring of the effectiveness of the controls.

  • Review of the assessments.

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