Loud noise at work can damage people’s hearing and lead to risks to safety. Noise at work can cause hearing damage that is permanent and disabling, which can be gradual because of exposure to noise over time, but also damage caused by sudden, extremely loud noises. Our guide to managing noise in the workplace explains what you, as an employer, need to do under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 to protect your employees from noise.
Noise is a physical hazard, which can cause harm to employees hearing. How hazardous noise is will depend on the noise dose, which is the level of noise (measured in units known as decibels (dB)) and duration that someone is exposed. The higher the number of decibels, the louder the noise.
Hazardous noise levels can result in:
- Noise-induced hearing loss – this can be temporary due to a short exposure to loud noise, however, when it is chronic, it is permanent, as the hearing has been damaged. Deafness and profound hearing loss are classed as disabilities.
- Threshold shift – when someone is exposed to loud noise, it can reduce their hearing acuity and affects their ability to hear certain sounds and frequencies. If a person continues to be exposed to hazardous noise levels, it can become permanent.
- Tinnitus – this causes ringing, whistling, humming and buzzing in the ears and can be very unpleasant. Once it becomes permanent, there is no cure.
- Burst eardrum – if the noise is so loud, like an explosion, it can permanently damage the ear and result in instant hearing loss.
You must record the findings of your risk assessment and you must also record the action you have taken, or intend to take, to comply with the law. You should review your risk assessment if circumstances change or if it is no longer valid, for example if the work changes and this affects workers’ noise exposure, or there are changes to the availability, applicability or cost of noise-control measures. This can be reviewed annually as a minimum to achieve best practice.
The legal duties
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 places a duty on employers to protect employees from the risks of exposure to noise at work. They must:
- Assess the risk of exposure to noise at work. Noise measurements are often taken as part of a survey to estimate likely exposures.
- Take certain actions when noise levels reach or exceed the exposure action values.
- Ensure they do not expose their employees to noise levels above exposure limits.
- Eliminate or adequately control the risks from exposure to noise, including monitoring noise levels.
- Provide hearing protection where they cannot reduce the risk by other means.
- Maintain noise control equipment and hearing protection.
- Provide employees with information, instruction and training.
- Provide health surveillance to employees, e.g. hearing checks, to those at risk of noise exposure.
For further information and guidance in managing noise in the workplace, please contact us here.