Friday, 18 May 2018

Noise at work: A brief guide to controlling the risks

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Noise Regulations 2005) require employers to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work. The Regulations require you as an employer to:

Assess the risks to your employees from noise at work; 
Act to reduce the noise exposure that produces those risks;
Provide your employees with hearing protection if you cannot reduce the noise exposure enough 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 

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. Your 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 risk

Wherever there is noise at work you should be looking for alternative processes, equipment and/or working methods which would make the work quieter or mean people are exposed for shorter times. You should also be keeping up with what is good practice or the standard for noise control within your industry.

Where there are reasonably practicable things you can do to reduce risks from noise, that are reasonably practicable, they should be done. However, where noise exposures are below the lower exposure action values, risks are low and so you would only be expected to take actions that are relatively inexpensive and simple to carry out.

Where your assessment shows that your employees are likely to be exposed at or above the upper exposure action values, you must put in place a planned programme of noise control

You are required to issue hearing protection to employees:

Where extra protection is needed above what has been achieved using noise control;
As a short-term measure while other methods of controlling noise are being developed.
Provide your employees with hearing protectors if they ask for it and their noise exposure is between the lower and upper exposure action values;
Provide your employees with hearing protectors and make sure they use them properly when their noise exposure exceeds the upper exposure action values;
Identify hearing protection zones, i.e. areas where the use of hearing protection is compulsory, and mark them with signs if possible;
Provide your employees with training and information on how to use and care for the hearing protectors;
ensure that the hearing protectors are properly used and maintained.

  The Noise Regulations require you to take specific action at certain action values. The values are: 

lower exposure action values:
  • daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB;
  • peak sound pressure of 135 dB;
upper exposure action values:
  • daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB;
  • peak sound pressure of 137 dB 

There are also levels of noise exposure which must not be exceeded. These are called exposure limit values: 
  •  daily or weekly exposure of 87 dB;
  •  peak sound pressure of 140 dB.
It is important that employees understand the risks they may be exposed to. Where they are exposed above the lower exposure action values you should at least tell them:

The likely noise exposure and the risk to hearing this noise creates;
What you are doing to control risks and exposures;
Where and how people can obtain hearing protection;
How to report defects in hearing protection and noise-control equipment
What their duties are under the Noise Regulations 2005;
What they should do to minimise the risk, such as the proper way to use hearing protection, how to look after it, store it and where to use it;
Your health surveillance systems.

Health surveillance for hearing damage usually means:

Regular hearing checks in controlled conditions;
Telling employees about the results of their hearing checks;
Keeping health records;
Ensuring employees are examined by a doctor where hearing damage is identified.

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