Noise Health and Safety FAQs

Health and safety FAQs relating to noise levels at work.

What are the noise exposure levels in the workplace?

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations requires action to be taken at certain action values. These relate to the levels of exposure averaged over a working day or week, and the maximum noise they are potentially exposed to in a working day. Full details can be found on the HSE’s website.

How is noise level measured?

Noise is measured using a sound level meter which measures the intensity of noise described in decibel units (dB). A sound meter uses a display with a decibel range that attempts to replicate the human ear’s dynamic range, usually the upper range which is most sensitive to harm.

Simply put the louder the noise, the higher the decibels though it should be remembered that a 3dB increase is a doubling of sound intensity and potentially increased risk of harm.

Noise level measurements are then described as A weighted (dBA) which as described earlier reflects the dynamic range of the human ear.

What are the risks for exposure to high levels of noise?

The health risks associated with exposure to noise include:

  • Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) which typically is as a result to exposure to noise over long periods of time or can be from a one off occurrence.
  • Tinnitus which is condition that arises over time and the symptoms include a persistent ringing or buzzing sound in one or both ears.
  • Stress from persistent or increased noise levels.

As well as health risks, loud noise can interfere with communication between employees, which can result in accidents or incidents.

What should I do when noise levels are too high?

The first action should be to consider if you can eliminate the noise altogether e.g. redesign the process. Where this isn’t possible, look at controlling the noise at source.

Other ways to control noise include:

  • Containing the noise in an acoustic shelter where workers don’t access.
  • Workers operating in acoustic shelters.
  • Using different equipment or processes.
  • Stopping the path that the noise travels by putting in place baffling or partitions
  • Putting controls in place such as ‘damping’ vibrating machine panels, isolating vibrating machinery components and fitting silencers to air exhausts.
  • Designing the workplace for low noise emission.

How long does it take for a person to become deaf from high noise levels?

Noise induced hearing loss is generally irreversible and cannot always be immediately noticeable by those who are expopsed. It can occur after a sudden loud noise but more typically after frequent or prolonged exposure to noise over time.

There is no specific timescale for a person to suffer from hearing loss however duration of exposure, age and individual susceptibility all plays a part.

When should you wear noise protection equipment?

It is a legal responsibility for employers to provide suitable hearing protection equipment to employees. Risk assessment should indicate when noise protection should be worn e.g. when using certain equipment, whilst undertaking certain tasks etc.

Employers have a duty to:

  • Provide ear protection to employees when required.
  • Identify hearing protection zones.
  • Provide employees with suitable noise awareness training.

What should I do if an employee refuses to wear noise protection?

If an employee refuses to wear noise protection then you should follow any disciplinary policies you have in place. Employees should be notified during induction and reminded that it is company policy to wear them when required.

Who should supply noise protection?

It is the employer’s responsibility to provide noise protection and ensure that it is maintained and used. The employee does also have the right to ask for noise protection if they want it.