Persistent exposure to loud noise - what employers need to know!

Persistent exposure to loud noise in the workplace threatens hearing and safety. Employers are obligated, under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, to minimise or eliminate these risks to ensure the well-being of employees.

Harmful Effects of Noise:

Hearing Damage

Noise at work can cause irreversible and disabling hearing damage. This damage may manifest gradually due to prolonged exposure or suddenly from extremely loud noises. Such impairment can hinder individuals from understanding speech, engaging in conversations, or using the telephone. Additionally, it may lead to the development of distressing conditions like tinnitus, disrupting sleep.

Safety Concerns

Workplace noise can disrupt communication, making warnings challenging to hear. It also diminishes awareness of surroundings, thereby increasing the risk of safety incidents, potentially resulting in injury or death.

Legal Obligations

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 mandates employers to:

  • Take action to reduce noise exposure.
  • Provide personal hearing protection to employees.

 

Other regulatory duties include:

  • Ensuring compliance with legal limits on noise exposure.
  • Maintaining and ensuring the use of equipment to control noise risks.
  • Providing employees with necessary information, instruction, and training.
  • Conducting health surveillance to monitor workers’ hearing ability.

These regulations apply to work activities that expose people to health and safety risks from workplace noise. However, they do not apply to non-workers exposed to such risks. In such cases, the general duties of section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 may apply.

Identifying a Noise Issue

You may need to address workplace noise if:

  • The noise is intrusive or consistently loud throughout the working day.
  • Employees have to raise their voices for everyday conversations about 2 meters apart.
  • Noisy tools or machinery are used for over half an hour daily.
  • Your industry involves noisy tasks, such as construction, demolition, or manufacturing.

Safety Considerations

Safety concerns related to noise should be considered in situations where:

  • Warning sounds are used to avoid or alert to dangerous situations.
  • Work practices rely on verbal communication.
  • Work is conducted around mobile machinery or traffic.

 

Deciding on Necessary Action:

If any of the mentioned situations apply, a risk assessment is crucial. This involves:

  • Identifying potential risks and affected individuals.
  • Assessing both health and safety risks.
  • Estimating employees’ noise exposure.
  • Determining necessary actions for legal compliance.
  • Identifying employees needing health surveillance and assessing specific risks.

Ensure records are maintained for assessments and actions to comply with the law. Regular reviews, especially with changing circumstances, are essential, and an annual review is good practice to capture any missed changes.

Further reading

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive is the workplace regulator and provides free guidance and information on reducing workplace risks and hazards

.