Health and safety FAQs relating to noise levels at work.
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 here.
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.
The health risks associated with exposure to noise include:
As well as health risks, loud noise can interfere with communication between employees, which can result in accidents or incidents.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.