Excessive noise in the workplace risks more than just the sanity of the workforce. Being exposed to excessive noise while at work can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss, as well as tinnitus, a distressing condition that causes ringing in the ears. According to the HSE, some 21,000 workers in the UK experience work-related hearing loss. Young people are just as susceptible to hearing damage; however, sometimes prolonged exposure, as well as the effects of ageing, can mean that people don’t realise how their hearing has been affected until much later in life.
For this reason, Health and Safety Managers must ensure that they adhere to noise at work regulations, making sure they comply with the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 legislation. This sets out several requirements for employers:
· Assess the noise risks for your employees
· Ensure the legal limits of noise exposure are not exceeded
· Implement necessary steps to reduce excessive noise exposure
· If the noise can’t be reduced, provide employees with hearing protection
· Ensure employees receive information, instruction and training
· Where there’s a health risk, conduct a health surveillance programme
Do You Need to Conduct a Risk Assessment?
If you work in a noisy industry such as construction, highway repair or at an airport then the need for noise monitoring is obvious. However, not all employers are aware that they even need to conduct a risk assessment. In order to determine this, you should ask yourself the following:
1. Is the noise intrusive, and does it continue throughout the day?
2. Do your employees use noisy machinery or power tools for longer than 30 minutes a day?
3. Do your employees regularly have to raise their voices to carry out a normal conversation, when standing approximately 2m apart?
4. Are there impact or explosive noises? This includes equipment such as pneumatic drills and cartridge-operated tools.
If any of the above apply to your place of work, then you need to do something to address noise in the workplace.
Action Levels and Limit Values
Before conducting a risk assessment, it’s important to understand how loud is too loud – or to put this into scientific terms, the action levels and limit values.
Current Government legislation requires employers to take action at specific levels of noise exposure. These are measured in decibels (dB) and expressed as A-weighted (how sound is perceived by the human ear) and C-weighted (peak sound levels above 100 dB). A-weighted sound levels are averaged over a day or week; C-weighted peak sound pressure readings are used to monitor maximum daily noise.
The values you need to look out for are 80, 85 and 87 dB, with peak readings as follows:
Lower action values
Daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB
Peak sound pressure level of 135 dB
Upper action values
Daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB
Peak sound pressure level of 137 dB
Exposure limit values
Daily or weekly exposure of 87 dB
Peak sound pressure level of 140 dB
It’s important to understand the significance of these limits set by the regulations, as they determine the type of remedial action that needs to be implemented by the employer.
The Risk Assessment
If your workforce is at risk of being exposed to a noise problem, then the first thing you’ll need to conduct is a Risk Assessment. This involves:
· Identifying noise hazards and those likely to be at risk
· Measuring levels of exposure – this includes the action levels and limit values
· Recording the findings of the assessment
· Determining what you need to do to comply with the law
· Drawing up an action plan
· Putting noise control measures in place
The results of the risk assessment must be recorded, and the findings and recommendations of the assessment reviewed regularly. Even if nothing has changed within the workplace, as machinery can deteriorate over time, sound levels should be reviewed every 2 years.
How Can Excessive Noise be Addressed?
If your risk assessment has determined that your employees are likely to be exposed to excessive noise levels, then you’ll have drawn up an action plan timetabling a planned programme of noise control. Measures that can be put in place include:
Protecting your Employees
The level of protective measures that need to be implemented depends on the level of exposure. At daily or weekly lower action values of 80-85 dB (A-weighted), employers must provide hearing protection, on request.
Where upper action levels of 85 dB or more are recorded, the employer must endeavour to reduce the noise exposure by implementing sound mitigation measures, examples of which include:
· Replacing/updating old equipment
· Building enclosures around machinery
· Installing sound barriers to block the path of sound
· Keeping noise sources away from employees and quiet areas
· Fitting silencers to blowing nozzles and exhausts
It’s important to bear in mind that every halving of time spent in a noisy environment reduces noise exposure by 3 dB, so additional measures can include rotating staff to limit exposure and creating hearing protection zones for staff. Where it’s not possible to lower the average noise to below 85dB, appropriate signage must be installed and only those wearing hearing protection should enter the area.
Providing Employees with Information and Training
Again, this depends on the level of exposure. At the lower action level of 80 dB employers must ensure employees are made aware of the risks involved and provide them with training on safe working practices and control measures. At the upper exposure level of 85 dB employees, as well as training and consultation, employees must be made aware that hearing protection is mandatory and where hearing protection zones are located.
Conducting health surveillance
In order to monitor the effectiveness of noise mitigation practices, employers should conduct health surveillance programmes, involving hearing checks for those at risk.
Who Can Conduct a Risk Assessment?
Given the risk, not only to your employees' health and wellbeing, but also the immediate environment, it’s essential that the assessment is undertaken by a competent professional, such as an Acoustic Consultant. These professionals not only have the expertise to monitor, assess and guide you through the process of assessing noise in the workplace, but they also have access to the best technology – including sound level meters for recording exposure levels and specialist modelling software. Where excessive noise exposure is detected, noise mitigation advice will also help ensure you remain compliant with legislation.
If you’re concerned about noise in your workplace, why not get in touch? Here at Auricl, we have extensive experience of managing noise levels in the workplace. Our experts are creative problem solvers who will work with you to find effective solutions for excessive noise exposure, ensuring you remain in line with the latest Government standards. For further information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 020 7859 4530 for the London office; for the Reading office call 0118 207 7324.