Noise at work – controlling exposure by using your ears

Noise at work – controlling exposure by using your ears


  • Date: Wednesday 28th April 2021
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Noise is a common hazard that we should all be aware of in the workplace and, whilst there are some complex measurements and calculations involved, there are actually some very simple steps that employers can take to prevent excessive or over exposure to employees. It is well known that excessive exposure to noise can cause both temporary and permanent damage to hearing. As noise is a hazard, we must treat it as any other and apply the risk assessment and hierarchy of control processes. Whilst personal protection certainly has its place, it cannot be the first action that we take.

What does the law say?

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 regulates the way in which noise is controlled at work and in Regulation 6 it states that employers must eliminate or control exposure to noise at the workplace. The order of this requirement is incredibly important – we must seek to eliminate noise at the source, and where this is not possible to reduce exposure to as low as is reasonably practicable. Employers must take action to reduce noise exposure and, where required, provide employees with suitable and appropriate personal hearing protection.

Other duties in the regulations include ensuring legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded, maintaining and ensuring the correct use of equipment to control noise levels, providing employees with information, instruction and training, and carrying out health surveillance. Regulation 4 sets exposure limit values and action values:

  • Lower exposure action values
    • Daily / weekly personal exposure of 80dB(A) and peak 135dB(C)
  • Upper exposure action values
    • Daily / weekly personal exposure of 85dB(A) and peak 137dB(C)
  • Exposure limit values
    • Daily / weekly personal exposure of 87dB(A) and peak 140dB(C)

Controlling noise at work – Use your ears

You may already be aware of excessive noise in your workplace, or maybe it’s something that you’re not sure of. Whether it’s a review or fresh assessment, the following four steps provide the perfect starting point for employers to consider if they’re doing enough to control noise at work.

Remember, under the regulations there is still a requirement for you to go beyond these steps to include information, instruction and training to employees and carry out health surveillance.

  1. Establish if there’s a noise problem
  2. Assess noise levels
  3. Reduce noise levels
  4. Suitable and appropriate hearing protection

Establish if there’s a noise problem

You will need to assess situations in which you are generating noise at the lower exposure action value (80db(A)). This can be difficult to establish and so it is likely you need to do something about the noise if any of the following apply:

  • Noise is intrusive for most of the working day
  • Employees have to raise their voices for normal conversation when 2m apart
  • Employees use noisy powered tools or machinery for more than half an hour each day
  • The sector you work in – construction, demolition, manufacturing, fabrication etc.
  • Noises generating through impact – hammering, pneumatic tools, explosions etc.

Assess noise levels

If any of the above apply, then it is likely that you need to take some further action through carrying out a risk assessment to decide what action is required and develop an action plan. Your risk assessment should include:

  • Identifying who is likely to be harmed and how
  • Estimates of employee exposures to noise – dB exposure on daily or weekly average
  • Identify if working practices are safe and if more is required to comply with the law
  • Identify employees that require health surveillance and individuals that may be at a higher level of risk

Reduce noise levels

The first thing to consider is how to remove the source of noise altogether by modifying organisational and technical measures; remember, Regulation 6 and the hierarchy of controls:

  • Other working methods which reduce exposure to noise
  • Choosing appropriate work equipment to emit the least possible noise
  • Design and layout of workplaces, workstations and rest facilities
  • Suitable and sufficient information, instruction and training for employees
  • Reduction of noise by technical means
  • Appropriate maintenance systems for work equipment, workplace and workstations
  • Limitation of the duration and intensity of exposure to noise
  • Appropriate work schedules with adequate rest periods

Suitable and appropriate hearing protection

If after following the above steps you still have employees operating within or above the limit or action values listed in Regulation 4 then you will need to provide suitable and appropriate hearing protection. Hearing protection must be made available to employees at 80dB(A) but becomes mandatory at 85dB(A). Furthermore, work areas with sustained levels of 85dB(A) or greater must be designated as a Hearing Protection Zone, which is demarked with mandatory hearing protection signage and access is restricted.

When selecting hearing protection employers should:

  • Choose a suitable protection factor sufficient to eliminate risks from noise but not isolate workers
  • Consider the working environment – physical activity, comfort, hygiene etc.
  • Compatibility with other PPE
  • Ensure that CE or UKCA markings are displayed
  • Engage in consultation with employees and representatives for choice of protection

Further information

The HSE produce a wide range of guidance and calculators to support employers in ensuring they have the right noise at work controls and protection measures in place. SSG’s consultants are available to support you through practical guidance and advice on measures that can be undertaken to reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss in your workplace.

Source: David Wright


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