How should your employer protect you from excessive noise at work?

Last updated: 04 Mar 2020

The main law dealing with occupational sources of noise is the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. The regulations require all employers to eliminate noise at source or, where that is not possible, reduce it to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.

The regulations also set out three legal noise thresholds:

  • the “lower action value” – which is 80 dB(A)
  • the “upper action value” – 85 dB(A)
  • the “limit value” – 87 dB(A), which takes account of any reduction in exposure provided by hearing protection.

As the name suggests, if noise is found to be at or above either of the action values, then the employer has to take a particular course of action. The limit value must not be exceeded.

If employees’ average exposure to noise is noise is between 80 and 85 dB(A) – the lower and upper action values – then employers must provide them with ear protection if they want it. At this level and above, employers must also give employees information on the risk and what measures can be taken to protect hearing.

Ear protection must be worn if the noise level reaches 85 dB(A) – the upper action value. Employers must mark where is it to be worn and provide staff with training and information on how to use it.

Employers must provide workers with hearing checks if they are likely to be regularly exposed to noise above 85 dB(A), or are at risk for any reason, for example if they already suffer from hearing loss. Health surveillance is vital to detect and respond to early signs of damage.

If an employer suspects that noise exceeds the lower action value, 80 dB(A), they have to carry out a noise risk assessment and plan how to eliminate noise or reduce it as much as possible. In a plan for reducing noise exposure, employers should consider things like:

  • Using a different, quieter process or quieter equipment
  • Introducing a low-noise purchasing policy for machinery and equipment
  • Lining machinery parts with a material that reduces vibration (and hence noise) or impact noises
  • Erecting enclosures around machines to reduce the amount of noise emitted
  • Positioning noise sources further away from workers
  • Limiting the time workers spend in noisy areas

Protection is best achieved by controlling noise at source. Hearing protection, such as ear plugs defenders, is the last resort.

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