Loud noise at work can damage your hearing and lead to safety risks.

Noise at work can cause permanent and disabling hearing damage.

This can be hearing loss that is gradual because of exposure to noise over time, but also damage caused by sudden, extremely loud noises.

The damage is disabling as it can stop people being able to understand speech, keep up with conversations or use the telephone.

If you don’t get hearing loss, you could develop tinnitus (a ringing, whistling, buzzing or humming in the ears), a distressing condition which can lead to disturbed sleep and depression.

What noise is an issue?

Your industry is one

  • You will probably need to do something about the noise if any of the following apply:
  • The noise is intrusive, such as a busy road noise, a vacuum cleaner or loud music for most of the working day.
  • You need to raise your voice to carry out a normal conversation when about 2 metres apart for at least part of the day.
  • You use noisy powered tools or machinery for more than half an hour each day.

 known to have noisy tasks, such as construction, demolition, road repair, woodworking, plastics processing, engineering, textile manufacture, general fabrication, forging or stamping, paper or board making, canning or bottling, foundries, waste and recycling.

The law

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (the ‘Noise Regulations’) require you to eliminate or reduce risks to health and safety from noise at work.

Depending on the level of risk, you should:

  • Act to reduce the noise exposure; and provide your employees with personal hearing protection.
  • Make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded;
  • Maintain and ensure the use of equipment you provide to control noise risks;  
  • Provide your employees with information, instruction and training;
  • Carry out health surveillance (monitor workers’ hearing ability).

The Regulations apply where work activities expose people at work (your employees or other workers affected by your work activities) to risks to their health and safety from noise.

The Regulations do not apply where people who are not at work are exposed to risks to their health and safety from noise related to work activities; however, the general duties of section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 may apply in such cases.

Decide what action to take.

If any of the statements in the previous section apply, it is likely you will need to take some further action. You may need to carry out a risk assessment to decide what action is needed, and develop a plan.

A risk assessment means more than just taking measurements of noise, measurements may not even be necessary. Your risk assessment should:

Identify where there may be a risk from noise and who is likely to be affected, include:

The risks to health; and the risks to safety;

  • Identify what you need to do to comply with the law, whether noise-control measures and/or personal hearing protection are needed, or whether working practices are safe; and
  • You must record the findings of your risk assessment.
  • You must also record the action you have taken, or intend to take, to comply with the law.
  • You should review your risk assessment if circumstances change or if it is no longer valid, for example if the work changes and this affects workers’ noise exposure, or there are changes to the availability, applicability or cost of noise-control measures. You should not leave it for more than about two years without checking whether a review is needed.

Reduce or stop the noise. 

There are several ways of reducing noise and noise exposure. It is within the capabilities of nearly all businesses to decide on practical, cost-effective actions to control noise risks, if necessary by looking at the advice available.

  • Can you remove the source of noise completely? Can you move the machine away from workers? If this is not possible then look at:
  • Using quieter equipment or a different, quieter process;
  • Engineering/technical controls to reduce, at source, the noise produced by a machine or process;
  • Using screens, barriers, enclosures and absorbent materials to reduce the noise on its path to the people exposed;
  • Designing and laying out the workplace to create quiet workstations;
  • Improved working techniques to reduce noise levels;
  • Limiting the time people spend in noisy areas.

The limits

There are legal limits on the levels of noise to which workers may be exposed.

To comply with the exposure limits you must ensure that your workers’ noise exposure, is reduced by an appropriate factor if they are using personal hearing protection, not above:

  • 87 decibels for daily or weekly personal noise exposure
  • 140 decibels for peak sound pressure

Complying with exposure limits is only one aspect of your legal duties under the Noise Regulations. It is separate from your duty to reduce risks from noise to as low as is reasonably practicable.

 

Information extracted from the HSE and HSE NI websites. https://www.hseni.gov.uk/  They have a further range of in depth information about noise control.

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