The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005) have been in force for almost a decade. They place a clear duty on employers to reduce the risk of permanent and disabling damage to the hearing of their staff from exposure to noise to the lowest level reasonably practicable.
The Regulations refer to exposure noise action level values and exposure limit values. What is meant by this?
In a nutshell, an exposure action value is a level of noise at which certain action must be taken by the employer and/or the person responsible for Health and Safety at work. An exposure limit value is a level of noise at the ear above which a worker must not be exposed. Therefore, if the noise levels in a work environment are above this value, any ear protection provided to an employee must reduce the noise level to the limit value at the ear.
Table A below shows a breakdown of noise exposure action and limit values:-
The peak exposure noise action and limit values are defined because high level peak noise can lead to short-term and long-term loss of hearing.
In a noisy work environment, tools such as nail guns, cartridge-operated or pneumatic impact tools, hammers and explosives can all produce sound pressures.
If the daily noise exposure exceeds the lower exposure action level, then a noise assessment should be carried out and recorded by a competent person1. There is a simple test which can be done in any workplace to determine whether there is a need for a noise assessment.
1 Person responsible for carrying out workplace noise risk assessments and advising line management of their findings with recommendations as appropriate.
Do you need to carry a noise risk assessment?
Please note that in most cases conducting a risk assessment may not be sufficient and that measuring noise at work and collecting data with the right equipment is vital. In case of a variation in noise exposure levels as a result of a change of duty during a working week, then the Regulations allow a weekly LEP,w rather than a daily LEP,d personal exposure level to be used. It is only likely to be significantly different to the daily exposure level if exposure on one or two days of the working week is 5dB(A) higher than on the other days, or the working week has three or fewer days of exposure. The weekly exposure rate is not just about averaging the calculation of the daily rates.
If a business is thinking of using a weekly noise exposure level, then the following provisions should be made also:
- Provide hearing protection if there are very high noise levels on any one day;
- Consult employees and their representatives on whether weekly averaging is appropriate;
- Give an explanation to the employees on the purpose and possible effects of weekly averaging.
Should a shift or a working day extends to 12 hours, the noise action levels must be reduced by 3dB(A) because the action levels assume an 8-hour working day (refer to Table A above).
For further advice on noise assessments and surveys, consult the HSE Guidance document L108.
For information on noise measurement technology such as sound level meters or personal noise exposure meters to help collect noise data in a work environment and complement any risk assessments, consult our website.
Pulsar Instruments have also produced a FREE summary guide for employers on Controlling workplace noise which sets out duties under the Regulations. Download your copy here.