Being exposed to loud noise in the workplace can affect your hearing. The louder the noise, the more damage it can cause. In some cases it can lead to permanent hearing loss.
Once your ears get damaged by noise exposure there is no cure. High noise levels can also interfere with communications in the workplace. This can lead to an increased risk of accidents and be a source of stress.
Identifying noise as a problem depends on how loud the noise is and how long you are exposed to it.
You must check if noise exposure is an issue and undertake a risk assessment.
You should take measures to eliminate or reduce noise exposure.
If noise exposure is an issue then measures should be taken to eliminate or reduce noise exposure by completing a risk assessment.
The risk assessment should consider:
- level, type and duration of exposure
- exposure limit values and the exposure action values
- effects of exposure to noise on employees
- interactions between noise and warning signals or other sounds that need to be observed in order to reduce the risk of accidents
- information on noise emission provided by the work equipment manufacturers
- availability of alternative equipment designed to reduce noise emission
- extension of exposure to noise beyond normal working hours in the workplace
- hearing protectors availability
Exposure action values
Noise is measured in decibels (dB).
There are two action levels where damage can occur:
Lower exposure action value 80dB
At 80dB you must provide information and training and make hearing protection available.
You must in addition to reducing noise levels, inform each potentially affected employee of the following:
- results of the measurements of noise and the possible risks
- results of preventative audiometric testing
- measures introduced to reduce the noise levels
- availability of hearing protection
- availability of hearing checks
- any necessary information and where relevant, training
Upper exposure action value 85dB or above
At or above 85dB, you must identify the reasons for the excess noise.
- put in place a programme to reduce the noise
- get a registered medical practitioner to carry out hearing checks and audiometric testing
- display mandatory warning signs indicating that the noise level is likely to exceed 85dB and that PPE is available and must be worn
- ensure workstations are protected from unauthorised access by barriers or other suitable means
No worker should be exposed to 87dB (taking hearing protection into account)
The main types of hearing protection are:
- earmuffs, which completely cover the ears
- earplugs, which are inserted in the ear canal
- semi-inserts (also called 'canal caps') which cover the entrance to the ear canal
Occupational health can provide health surveillance (hearing checks) for employees who are:
- regularly exposed to loud noise
- suffering from hearing loss
- sensitive to loud noise
Health surveillance can help to:
- indicate if an employee is suffering from early signs of hearing damage
- prevent any damage from getting worse
- check that control measures are working
Health surveillance should be done before an employee is exposed to noise. For example, new employees or those changing jobs.
After health surveillance, employees should have regular hearing checks.
Hearing checks are done annually in the first 2 years of employment. They are then done at 3 yearly intervals. This may need to be more often where an employee has a hearing problem or there is a high risk of hearing damage.
Health surveillance can be organised through your local occupational health department.
As an employee, you can protect yourself from loud noise by:
- reporting issues relating to noise exposure to your manager
- complying with the control measures in the risk assessment
- wearing ear defenders
- attending training and information sessions
- attending mandatory health surveillance
An occupational hygienist can measure the noise levels employees are exposed to.
You can check noise exposure by seeing if you can talk to someone about 2 metres away without shouting. If you can’t be heard, you may need to monitor noise levels in your workplace.
Where noise levels are monitored, a report is given to the manager. The report will show employee exposure rates for certain tasks and environments. It will make recommendations on how to reduce the noise exposure levels.