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What Are the Employers Responsibilities Regarding Noise at Work?

Overview of the employers responsibilities regarding hearing protection and workplace noise.

Employers Responsibilities Regarding Hearing Protection and Occupational Noise

The dangers of excessive noise levels at work are well documented. Not only does loud noise pose a threat to workers’ hearing; it can also impair their ability to hear alarms and warnings in emergency situations. Then there are the legal and financial implications for your company if taken to court over hearing loss claims. These risks may be well known and understood, but what exactly are the employers responsibilities regarding hearing protection and noise at work as opposed to those of health and safety officers and noise consultants?

In broad terms, the Noise at Work Regulations 2005 require that you assess the risks that workplace noise poses to your employees. You must ‘take action’ to reduce the noise exposure that leads to these risks, and provide employees with hearing protection in cases where noise cannot be adequately reduced through other means.

However, such guidance on employers responsibilities regarding hearing protection is rather vague. How, specifically, does one assess the risks, and what exactly is this action that one must take in order to reduce workers’ noise exposure (if required) so that it is within safe limits?

Employers Responsibilities Regarding Noise at Work

You should first of all identify any particular areas that might present a noise risk. For example, certain vehicles, tools and machines may be preventing workers from communicating as easily as they might. Work out who is likely to be affected, and with the help of a someone who has the competence to carry out noise assessments such as a health and safety officer or noise consultant, make reliable estimates of these employees’ exposures.

These estimates should then be compared with the noise exposure action levels and limit values. The action levels are those at which specific action needs to be taken, while the limit values are those which absolutely must not be exceeded. These values include both the average level of noise exposure over a working day or week, and the maximum noise level (peak sound pressure) to which employees can exposed in a working day. Here is a summary:

 

  Action Levels (Lower Exposure) Action Levels (Upper Exposure) Limit Values
Daily / Weekly Exposure 80dB 85dB 87dB
Peak Sound Pressure 135dB 137dB 140dB

 

If you believe that these noise levels are potentially being exceeded, you must take measures to reduce workers’ noise exposure. First of all, you should try to minimise the noise at source, e.g. by replacing a certain machine or installing acoustic dampening equipment. You could also look at workers’ shift patterns or tasks throughout the day and attempt to reduce the amount of time each individual spends in close proximity to the source of the noise.

Once such measures are in place, you will need to ensure that they are adequate in reducing workers’ noise exposure to a safe level. A health and safety professional who is suitably qualified in the use of noise level meters should measure the exposure of affected employees throughout the day. If legal limits are exceeded, further action is required in order to protect workers’ hearing. Workers should be provided with hearing protection as well as sufficient information and training to ensure that they understand the risks and how to minimise them, and health surveillance should be carried out on a regular basis.

Employers Responsibilities Regarding Hearing Protection

If workers are required to wear hearing protection, you must:

  • mark noise hazard areas using clear signage
  • provide appropriate hearing protection at no cost to workers and ensure that it is worn as specified
  • make sure every employee’s hearing is tested on an annual basis

You should also ensure that the authorised tester:

  • records the hearing tests as required by the board
  • informs each worker of the test results by presenting them with a copy (on the “Record of Hearing Test” card)
  • advises the worker on the use and maintenance of hearing protection
  • submits the results to the board.

We hope you now have a better understanding of the employers responsibilities regarding hearing protection and noise at work. For more information, please browse our website. Pulsar Instruments specialises in the manufacture and supply of noise monitoring solutions for use in the workplace and can help you find the right noise meter for your company. We also offer one-day noise awareness courses to help ensure that your health and safety staff are up to date on the latest legislation. Call 01723 518011 to enquire further about our company, products and services.

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Download your FREE 5 Steps Guide to Controlling Workplace Noise. Important Guidance on Employers' Duties under the Regulations

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