Noise at Work – Health and Safety Protection

Many employees will be exposed to excessive noise during their employment especially in relation to construction jobs and work on roads and highways. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 has been implemented to ensure that the risk of exposure to noise at work is minimised.

Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005

Personal Noise Exposure

Noise has been defined as the act as any audible sound with the more important definition being that of personal noise exposure.

This is defined as meaning the level of daily personal noise exposure of an employee taking account of the level of noise and the duration of exposure and covering all noise.

Duty placed on the Employer

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 impose a duty on every employer in respect of his employees to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that those employees are not exposed to noise which is excessive.

How much noise is considered acceptable?

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 specify action values and exposure limit values for daily personal and weekly personal noise exposure and peak sound level.

They are split into lower and upper exposure action values with a maximum exposure limit being provided and are as follows:

  • The lower exposure action values

  • a daily or weekly personal noise exposure of 80 dB (A-weighted); and

  • a peak sound pressure of 135 dB (C-weighted)

  • The upper exposure action values

  • a daily or weekly personal noise exposure of 85 dB (A-weighted); and

  • a peak sound pressure of 137 dB (C-weighted)

  • The exposure limit values

  • a daily or weekly personal noise exposure of 87 dB (A-weighted); and

  • a peak sound pressure of 140 dB (C-weighted)

Daily Personal Noise exposure is measured according to the total noise received by an employee over the entire working day. Daily noise exposures depend on all noise levels experienced over the course of the day and look specifically at time spent in the noise and time spent away from the noise. Specifically a high level noise for a short time may give the same noise exposure as a low level noise for a longer time.

A working day is taken to mean an 8 hour working day so the daily noise exposure will be the average over the 8 hours. Similarly to calculate weekly exposure it will be done according to the 40 hour week.

Peak sound pressure levels is the highest level of noise occurring at any time during the working day.

Elimination

Section 6 of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations specifically states that the risk from exposure of noise to his employees is either eliminated at source or where it is not reasonably practicable to do so reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable to do so.

Risk Assessments

If the exposure is likely to be exceeded it shall be the duty of the employer to carry out a full risk assessment to assess whether any employees are to be exposed to this noise and in what circumstances. An employer when undertaking a risk assessment must take into consideration the following factors:

  • The level, type and duration of exposure

  • The effects of exposure – particular attention must be taken towards employees where health risks may be concerned

  • The effects of the noise on any of the audible warning signals or any other sounds that have to be audible on ground of safety or to reduce the risk at work

  • Information provided by the manufacturer of work equipment

  • Whether there is any other available equipment which may reduce the emission of noise

  • If the workers are exposed to the noise outside of their normal hours – for example when taking lunch breaks or other breaks in rest facilities

  • Any information that is deemed appropriate following health surveillance

  • The availability of personal hearing protectors

Hearing Equipment

An employer who carries out work which is likely to expose any employees to noise at or above a lower exposure action value must make personal hearing protectors available upon request to any employee who is so exposed.

In the case where an employer is unable by other means to reduce the levels of noise to which an employee is likely to be exposed to below an upper exposure action value, he shall provide personal hearing protectors to any employee who is so exposed. The employees, however, do not have to wear the hearing equipment.

As a matter of good course all employers who feel that their employees may be exposed to noise at work should ensure that appropriate hearing equipment is available.

Information and Training

Employers must also provide information and training to employees in relation to the following issues:

  • The risks associated with noise exposure

  • The measures taken by the employer to reduce the exposure to noise

  • The exposure limit values

  • The significant findings of the risk assessment

  • The availability of personal hearing equipment

  • The proper use of personal hearing equipment 

  • How to detect signs of hearing damage

  • The reporting process of that employee detects signs of hearing damage

  • Safe working practices to minimise their exposure to noise

What happens if the lawful noise levels are exceeded?

Section 6 of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations specifies that if the noise cannot be eliminated at source then the employer must reduce exposure to as low a level as is reasonably practicable. This must be done by implementing a programme of organisational and technical measures. This programme cannot include the provision of personal hearing equipment.

The following factors can be taken into consideration when trying to achieve this:

  • Implementing other working methods

  • Introducing other work equipment which does not create as much noise

  • Information and training for employees

  • Change of location for rest areas

  • Limiting the duration each employee is exposed to the noise

  • Making sure the machinery is properly maintained

I am self employed – do the Regulations apply to me?

Section 3 of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations makes it clear that someone who is self employed will have to adhere to the regulations in the same that an employer would.