The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (the Noise Regulations) aim to ensure that workers’ hearing is protected from excessive noise at their place of work.
Loud noise at work can cause hearing damage that is permanent and disabling. This can be gradual, from exposure to noise over time, but damage can also be caused by sudden, extremely loud, noises. The damage is disabling in that it can stop people being able to understand speech, keep up with conversations or use the telephone. In extreme cases it can also cause people to lose their hearing and/or to suffer any hearing-related conditions such as tinnitus.
Excessive noise in the workplace can also interfere with communications and make warnings harder to hear. It can also reduce people’s awareness of their surroundings. These issues can lead to safety risks – putting people at risk of injury or death.
According to the Labour Force Survey, there were an estimated 11,000 prevalent cases of hearing problems each year caused or made worse by work over the last three years (2019/20 – 2021/22).
The regulations state that the level at which employers must provide hearing protection and hearing protection zones is 85 dB(A) (daily or weekly average exposure) and the level at which employers must assess the risk to workers’ health and provide them with information and training is 80 dB(A). There is also an exposure limit value of 87 dB(A), taking account of any reduction in exposure provided by hearing protection, above which workers must not be exposed.
Depending on the level of risk, you should:
- take action to reduce the noise exposure; and also
- provide your employees with personal hearing protection.
Other duties under the Regulations include the need to:
- 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.
How can you manage the risks?
Firstly, think about how to remove the source of noise altogether – for example, housing a noisy machine where it cannot be heard by workers. If that is not possible, investigate:
- Providing employees with hearing protectors and make sure they use them fully and properly.
- 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.
Measures that give ongoing or medium- and long-term benefits, and would be expected to be part of your noise-control programme, are:
- A low-noise purchasing policy for machinery and equipment.
- Proper and regular maintenance of machinery and equipment that takes account of noise
Read our blog on the WHO’s global standard for safe listening venues and events here
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