Noise at Work

Introduction

Noise may interfere with working efficiency by being an annoyance and causing stress; it may directly cause accidents by hindering communication; most importantly, though, it can cause damage to hearing. The risk of damage depends on the dose of sound energy received over a period of time. A temporary loss of hearing lasting from a few seconds to a few days may result from exposure to intense noise for a short time. Regular exposure to high noise levels over a long period is much more serious and may result in the destruction of certain inner ear structures and a loss of hearing which is incurable. Indications that someone is developing hearing loss may include

  • an inability to hear high-pitched or soft sounds
  • trouble understanding conversation in a crowded room
  • ringing or whistling in the ears (tinnitus)

Hearing loss, of course, is not always caused by exposure to noise at work; it is part of the normal ageing process and can also be caused by disease. However, employers must consider the noise to which their employees are exposed during their work and must ensure that measures are taken, if necessary, to reduce the risk.

Policy

It is the policy of the University to put in place measures to protect employees and others who may be exposed from the risks of noise-induced hearing loss and to comply with the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 and the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Reponsibilities

Heads of Schools/Departments are to ensure that persons are appointed to take responsibility for implementing this policy and
undertaking risk assessments as necessary in accordance with the Regulations.

Managers in those areas affected are required to implement measures as necessary to comply with this policy including risk assessment, control measures to reduce risk and suitable training and information for those exposed to a noise risk. In particular, they are required to ensure provision in the use of hearing protection and identification of any requirement for health surveillance. Further assistance is available from the Safety, Health and Environment Unit.

Employees and others working in any hearing protection zone are required to co-operate and comply with control measures in place for their protection, to make full use of any personal protective equipment [PPE] where issued to them and to report any concerns to their manager about noise levels or personal vulnerability.

Requirements of the Regulations

Summary

Employers are required to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work.

From April 2006 these regulations also applied to the music and entertainment industry. The Regulations do not apply to any members of the public exposed to noise from their non-work activities or who choose to enter noisy places, nor do they apply to low level ‘nuisance’ noise which causes no risk to hearing damage.

A guide to examples of typical noise levels

Noise is measured in decibels (dB). An ‘A-weighting’ written as dB(A) is used to measure average noise levels, and a ‘C-weighting’ written as dB(C) to measure peak, impact or explosive noises.

Activity

dB (A)

Rustle of a leaf

10

Quiet library

30

Normal conversation

60

Loud radio

70

Road drill

100

Jet aircraft taking off (25 metres away)

140

Exposure limits and action values
The regulations require specific actions to be taken at certain levels of noise exposure averaged over a working day or week. These are:

Lower Exposure Action Value:      
daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB (A)
peak sound pressure of 135 dB (C)

Upper Exposure Action Value:      
daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB (A)
peak sound pressure of 137 dB (C)

There is also a maximum noise (peak sound pressure) level that must not be exceeded:
daily or weekly exposure of 87 dB (A)
peak sound pressure of 137 dB (C)

This is the maximum exposure permitted and takes into account any reduction in exposure provided by hearing protection.

Noise Risk Assessment

In any area where it is likely that noise levels will be at or above the lower exposure action value a noise risk assessment will need to be carried out. The normal University risk assessment policy will apply but the assessment will need to be carried out by a competent person using specialized measuring equipment; the Safety, Health and Environment Unit should be contacted for advice. Any initial assessment which determines that levels are under the lower exposure action level and needs no further action should also be recorded.  This could form part of a normal risk assessment for an area.

Control measures

Below 80 dB (under lower exposure action level)

  • Any straightforward actions that can be taken to eliminate or reduce levels even further, that are reasonably practicable, should be considered.

At or above 80dB (lower exposure action level)

  • Appropriate noise control measures to reduce the risks as far as reasonably practicable must be put in place and hearing protection (PPE) made available if requested, free of charge. Employees and others must be given information on why it is made available, how to use, clean and store it, along with the system for its replacement. 
  • Health surveillance will not generally be required for all people at this level of exposure however, anyone identified as particularly vulnerable to noise risk (for example those already suffering from hearing loss) must be referred to the University Occupational Health Nurse Adviser for assessment, further information and hearing checks. Occupational Health is part of the Safety, Health and Environment Unit.

At or above 85dB (upper exposure action level)

  • Identify all those who are at risk.
  • A planned programme of noise control is required.
  • The best method of control is to try to eliminate or reduce the levels of noise at source but where this is not reasonably practicable a programme of control measures will need to be implemented.
  • This may include engineering controls, such as quieter processes, modification, isolation, enclosure, and insulating panels.
  • Other measures might include preventing access to the noisy area or reducing the time spent by people in noisy areas.
  • Those who are exposed should be given information, instruction and training on the risks to hearing, the control measures that are in place, how to use them and the procedures to follow.
  • In any area where the levels remain at or above the upper exposure action level (85dB), the area must be designated a hearing protection zone with the appropriate mandatory signage as well as signage on any particular equipment.
  • Provision and wearing of hearing protection (PPE) becomes mandatory and this must be made available free of charge. The selected PPE must be suitable for the noise level environment and the user and compatible with any other PPE that is required to be worn.
  • All employees and others affected must be given information on why this is made available, instruction and training in its proper use and maintenance including how to use it, clean and store it, along with the system for its replacement. 
  • In designated hearing protection zones where the wearing of hearing protection is mandatory users must be informed of the rules and appropriate supervision/checks made to ensure users do comply.
  • Health surveillance (hearing checks) must be provided for all employees where they are likely to be exposed frequently at or above the upper exposure action values and to anyone identified as particularly vulnerable to noise risk (for example those already suffering from hearing loss).
  • Such persons must be referred to the University Occupational Health Nurse Adviser for assessment, further information and hearing checks. Occupational Health is part of the Safety, Health and Environment Unit.

 

Further information available from

HSE Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005
HSE Guidance indg362 for employers on the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005
The Safety Health and Environment Unit