- Hearing loss
Noise at work can cause hearing loss which can be temporary or permanent. People often experience temporary deafness after leaving a noisy place. Although hearing recovers within a few hours, this should not be ignored. It is a sign that if you continue to be exposed to the noise your hearing could be permanently damaged.
Permanent hearing damage can be caused immediately by sudden, extremely loud, explosive noises, eg from guns or cartridge-operated machines. But hearing loss is usually gradual because of prolonged exposure to noise. It may only be when damage caused by noise over the years combines with hearing loss due to ageing that people realise how deaf they have become. This may mean their family complains about the television being too loud, they cannot keep up with conversations in a group, or they have trouble using the telephone. Eventually everything becomes muffled and people find it difficult to catch sounds like ‘t’, ‘d’ and ‘s’, so they confuse similar words.
Hearing loss is not the only problem. People may develop tinnitus (ringing, whistling, buzzing or humming in the ears), a distressing condition which can lead to disturbed sleep.
The 2005 regulations came into force on the 6th April 2006 and significantly reduce the level of exposure permissible in the ‘Noise at Work Regulations 1989’. The 2005 regulations set out a number of requirements including Exposure Limit Values and Action Values, which are as follows;
The regulations require the employer to:
- assess the risks to your employees from noise at work;
- take action to reduce the noise exposure that produces those risks;
- provide your employees with hearing protection if you cannot reduce the noise
- reduce exposure sufficiently by using other methods;
- make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded;
- provide your employees with information, instruction and training;
- carry out health surveillance where there is a risk to health.
Noise levels – What are the action levels and limit values?
The Noise Regulations require you to take specific action at certain action values. These relate to:
- the levels of exposure to noise of your employees averaged over a working day or week;
- and the maximum noise (peak sound pressure) to which employees are exposed in a working day.
The values are:
Lower Exposure Action Value:
- a daily (LEP,d) or weekly (LEP,w) personal noise exposure of 80 dB(A); and
- a peak sound pressure of 135 dB(C)
Upper Exposure Action Values:
- a daily (LEP,d) or weekly (LEP,w) personal noise exposure of 85 dB(A); and
- a peak sound pressure of 137 dB(C)
Exposure Limit Values;
- a daily (LEP,d) or weekly (LEP,w) personal exposure of 87 dB(A); and;
- a peak sound pressure of 140 dB(C).
Given the above action and limit values, the 2005 regulations require the employer to eliminate or control the noise exposure in the workplace. The first principle of these regulations is for the employer to eliminate the risk of employees being exposed to noise at source or, where this is not reasonably practicable, to reduce the noise level as low as possible. Where any employee is likely to be exposed to noise at or above the upper exposure action value of 85 dB(A), the employer must have in place a management plan which reduces the exposure to as low a level as is reasonably practicable, excluding the provision of personal hearing protectors. The general principles of a management plan are set out in Schedule 1 of the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999.
Not withstanding the first principle to remove or reduce the noise exposure of employees without the use of hearing protectors, an employer must also comply with the following;
- Where an employee is likely to be exposed to noise at or above the lower exposure action level of 80 dB(A), the employer shall make personal hearing protectors available upon request to any employee who is exposed.
- Where an employer is unable by any other means to reduce the levels of noise to below the upper exposure action value of 85 dB(A), the employer shall provide personal hearing protectors to any employee who is exposed.
If in any area of the workplace an employee is likely to be exposed to noise at or above the upper exposure action value of 85 dB(A) for any reason, the employer shall ensure that:
- the area is designated a Hearing Protection Zone;
- the area is demarcated and identified by means of appropriate signage, indicating that hearing protection must be worn; and
- access to the area is restricted where it is practicable and the risk from exposure justifies it.
The employer shall also ensure that, employees entering the designated area are wearing personal hearing protectors. The employer, if a risk assessment indicates there is a risk to the health of employees from the exposure to noise, shall put have in place suitable health surveillance, in respect of hearing. Therefore employees who are regularly exposed to noise levels of 85 dB(A) or higher must be subject to health surveillance, including audiometric testing (see regulation 9). This constitutes a big change from the 1989 regulations. Where exposure is between 80 and 85 dB(A), or where employees are only occasionally exposed above the upper exposure action values, health surveillance will only be required if information comes to light that an individual may be particularly sensitive to noise-induced hearing loss.
The employer must also ensure that his employees are not exposed to noise above an exposure limit value; or if an exposure limit value is exceeded i.e. 87 dB(A) or140 dB(C) taking hearing protection into account, it must:
(i) reduce exposure to noise to below the exposure limit value; (ii) identify the reason for that exposure limit value being exceeded; and (iii) modify the organisational and technical measures taken in accordance with the regulations to prevent it being exceeded again.
Noise Risk Assessments
The aim of the risk assessment is to help you decide what you need to do to ensure the health and safety of your employees who are exposed to noise. It is more than just taking measurements of noise – sometimes measurements may not even be necessary. A risk assessment should:
- identify where there may be a risk from noise and who is likely to be affected;
- contain a reliable estimate of your employees’ exposures, and compare the exposure with the exposure action values and limit values;
- identify what you need to do to comply with the law, e.g. whether noise-control measures or hearing protection are needed, and, if so, where and what type; and
- identify any employees who need to be provided with health surveillance and whether any are at particular risk.
- It is essential that you can show that your estimate of employees’ exposure is representative of the work that they do. It needs to take account of:
- the work they do or are likely to do;
- the ways in which they do the work; and
- how it might vary from one day to the next.
- estimates must be based on reliable information, e.g. measurements in the workplace, information from other workplaces similar to yours, or data from suppliers of machinery.
- It must record the findings of the risk assessment, and
- record in an action plan anything you identify as being necessary to comply with the law, setting out what you have done and what you are going to do, with a timetable and saying who will be responsible for the work.
- The risk assessment must be reviewed if circumstances in the workplace change affecting the noise exposures.
- Also it should be reviewed regularly to ensure it continues to do all that is reasonably practicable to control the noise risks.
Even if it appears that nothing has changed, you should not leave it for more than about two years without checking whether a review is needed.