The current statutory compliance for employers with regards to the levels of noise their employees are exposed to whilst at work is contained within The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005). However, the question is whether these regulations are designed simply to “catch out” employers so that they may become liable to the ever increasing number of noise-induced hearing loss claims or do these regulations provide employees with proper protection from exposure to excessive and loud noise whilst in the workplace?
Noise at Work Regulations past and present
The link between exposure to noise and hearing damage has been known for more than 50 years now since the publication of the Government document “Noise & the Worker” in 1963. However, the current scientific literature suggests that prolonged exposure to noise at levels of 85dB(A) would present some hazard to an individual’s hearing and there is still a residual risk down to a level of 82dB(A); but the magnitude of the hazard would increase rapidly if levels of noise an individual was exposed to were above 90dB(A).
The above would help to explain the current lower exposure action value of 80dB(A) and the upper exposure action value of 85dB(A) as stated in Regulation 4 of The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005).
Noise at Work Regulations: Recommendations for implementation
Regulation 5 goes on to state that an employer should carry out a noise survey if the noise in the workplace is liable to be above the lower exposure action value. Having carried out such a survey, an employer will be able to have accurate information as to the levels of noise their employees are exposed to. Without such a statutory requirement, an employer would simply be guessing at the levels of noise he exposed his employees to and the levels of risk he was exposing them to.
Further, Regulation 6 require an employer to implement a programme of organisational and technical measures to reduce the exposure to noise if the noise survey reveals that employees are exposed to noise above the upper exposure action value. By introducing such measures, this will help to safeguard employees’ hearing as exposure to noise would be reduced and employees would be less likely to suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus.
A further statutory requirement is contained within Regulation 7 which requires employers to provide hearing protection to any employee who asks for it and who is likely to be exposed to noise above the lower exposure action value. Further, if the noise is above the upper exposure action value, then the employer must indicate that area as being a designated hearing protection zone so that only employees wearing hearing protection may enter. Again, such a regulation will help safeguard an employee’s hearing as properly worn and efficient hearing protection can have attenuation levels (i.e. reduction in exposure to the daily noise) of between 15-25dB. Therefore, if the noise exposure was 85dB(A), this figure could be significantly reduced to a level where there is virtually no risk to an employee’s hearing.
Noise at Work regulations: Hearing Protection
Regulation 7 (4) (b) states that an employer should only select hearing protection once they have consulted with their employees. This regulation is included to ensure that employees are content with the hearing protection supplied as if they are not, studies show that there is every chance that they will not wear the hearing protection which would have the same effects of not having any hearing protection available in the first place. It could be the case that employees do not like the hearing protection provided because the same does not fit well if an individual has to wear other PPE such as helmets or eye protection. Further, the hearing protection provided may exacerbate an existing problem such as an ear infection. So once again, this regulation will help safeguard an employee’s hearing as it will make it more likely that employees wear the hearing protection so as to reduce the risk to their hearing.
Regulation 8 requires employers to ensure that all equipment is maintained and repaired. It is an inevitable consequence that, as equipment becomes older, it will also become noisier particularly if the equipment is not maintained or replaced. Further, this regulation will also apply to hearing protection as clearly if a set of ear defenders are broken then they will not afford the same attenuation level as a new or properly maintained pair of defenders.
Noise at Work regulations: Health Surveillance
Regulation 9 requires employers to provide health surveillance to employees who are likely to be exposed to noise above the lower exposure action values. This will warn employers when employees might be suffering from early signs of hearing damage and also give employers the opportunity to do something to prevent the damage from getting worse. It will also be a very obvious indicator to employees that their employers are concerned about their hearing. However, it will be important for employers to explain why health surveillance is being carried out. This may involve liaising with Trade Union safety representatives so as to get full co-operation from all employees. Clearly, if employees are suspicious as to the reasons why health surveillance is being carried out, they may be less likely to attend medical examinations which could mean that damage to hearing is missed by both employer and employee.
Noise at Work regulations: Workforce training
Regulation 10 requires employers to train their employees where noise exposure values are above the lower exposure action value. The training should focus around:
- Risk of exposure to noise
- What is being done to prevent exposure to noise
- The results of noise surveys carried out
- Availability and provision of hearing protection
- How to detect and reports signs of hearing damage
- Entitlement to health surveillance.
Such training and information will provide employees with sufficient detail so that they are personally aware of the effects of noise and can spot the signs of hearing damage and get something done about it before it gets worse. Again, this will help safeguard an employee’s hearing from both hearing loss and potentially tinnitus.
Therefore statutory compliance with the regulations contained within The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005) will help safeguard employees’ hearing and could well mean a happier and more productive workforce knowing that their employers have concerns over their health.
About the author. Jason Bleasdale is a Partner at international law firm Clyde & Co LLP, in the Casualty and Healthcare group.
©Pulsar Instruments 2015. First published on 30th June 2015 on this website. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pulsar Instruments with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.