Noise at work
Health and Safety Risks
Loud noise at work can damage people’s hearing and lead to risks to safety. This can include gradual hearing loss caused by exposure to noise over time or damage caused by a sudden, extremely loud noise. Hearing damage can be permanent and disabling. It can stop people being able to understand speech, keep up with conversations or use the telephone.
Hearing loss is not the only problem. Tinnitus is the term used for hearing sounds that come from inside your body, rather than from an outside source, and can including ringing, buzzing, hissing and whistling.
Other safety issues can arise from noise at work because it can interfere with communication, reduce people’s awareness of their surroundings and make it harder to hear warning sounds.
Does your workplace have a noise problem?
Workplaces will more than likely need to do something about noise if the following apply:
- The noise is intrusive or worse than intrusive for most of the working day i.e. busy roads, a vacuum cleaner, or a crowded restaurant.
- Employees have to raise their voices to carry out a normal conversation when they are 2 metres apart for at least some of the day.
- Employees use noisy tools or equipment, e.g. drills, chainsaws or hammering, for more than half an hour each day.
- There are noises due to impacts or explosive sources.
- Certain jobs and industries are associated with noisy tasks e.g. construction, demolition or road repair, engineering and textile manufacturing.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 places duties on employers and self-employed persons to protect both employees who may be at risk from exposure to noise at work and other persons who might be affected by that work.
The actions to be taken depends on the levels of exposure to noise of your employees averaged over a working week and the maximum noise (peak sound pressure) to which employees are exposed in a working day.
The lower exposure action values are daily or weekly exposure of 80dB and peak sound pressure of 135dB. Upper exposure action values are daily or weekly exposure of 85dB and peak sound pressure of 137 dB. Legal limits on noise exposure should not be exceeded – daily or weekly exposure of 87dB and peak sound pressure of 140dB.
Employers are responsible for carrying out a noise risk assessment that includes identifying noise hazards, estimating likely exposure to noise and identifying measures to reduce/ eliminate noise exposure. Employers should take steps to prevent or control the noise and provide employees with hearing protection, if necessary. Training, information and instructions should be provided to employees. A health surveillance, which includes hearing checks, may be necessary if there’s a risk to health.
How to reduce noise:
- Use a different, quieter process or quieter equipment e.g. introduce a low-noise purchasing policy for machinery and equipment.
- Introduce engineering controls e.g. avoid metal-on metal impacts, add material to vibrating machinery to reduce vibration, fit silencers to air exhausts and blowing nozzles.
- Modify the paths by which noise travels through the air to the people exposed i.e. erect enclosures, barriers or screens to block the direct path of sound to the surrounding workplace.
- Design and lay out the workplace for low noise emission.
- Good maintenance of equipment can reduce noise from friction and moving parts.
- Wear appropriate hearing protection and look after it.
- Mark hearing protection zones with prominent notices.
- Limit time spent in noisy areas.