Noise at Work

European Health & Safety Week 24-30 October 2005 is focusing on Noise At Work. Noise is one of the most underestimated workplace risks. The HSE estimates that 170,000 people in the UK suffer hearing damage, as a result of exposure to excessive noise at work. While noise induced hearing loss is irreversible – it is also 100% preventable. 

How is noise measured?

The scale used to measure noise is logarithmic, a small increase in the decibel scale corresponds to a large increase in intensity. This is very important in understanding the significance of noise measurements. For example: an increase of 3 dB corresponds to a doubling of intensity. 83 dB is not just over 80 dB but is in fact twice as intense

Do you have a noise problem at work?

This will depend on how loud the noise is and how long people are exposed to it. As a simple guide your employer will probably need to do something about the noise if any of the following apply:-

  • Is the noise intrusive – like a busy street, a vacuum cleaner or a crowded restaurant – for most of the working day?
  • Do you have to raise your voice to carry out a normal conversation when about 2m apart for at least part of the day?
  • Do you use noisy powered tools or machinery for more than half an hour each day?

Noise can also be a safety hazard at work, interfering with communication and making warnings harder to hear.

Noise levels – What the law says

From April 2006 there will be new laws on noise. The Regulations require your employer to:

  • Assess the risks to their employees from noise at work;
  • Take action to reduce the noise exposure that produces those risks;
  • provide the employees with hearing protection if they cannot reduce the noise exposure enough by using other methods;
  • make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded;
  • provide the employees with information, instruction and training;
  • carry out health surveillance where there is a risk to health.

The Noise Regulations require your employer to take specific action at certain action values.

lower exposure action values:   upper exposure action values
– daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB;
– peak sound pressure of 135 dB
– daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB;
– peak sound pressure of 137 dB.

There are also levels of noise exposure which must not be exceeded:

exposure limit values: 
– daily or weekly exposure of 87 dB;
– peak sound pressure of 140 dB.

These exposure limit values take account of any reduction in exposure provided by hearing protection. However these are maximums, and even at lower levels constant noise, especially at certain pitches, can be very annoying and help lead to stress. Employers have a legal duty to protect their employees from the harmful effects of noise at work. The best solution is to get rid of the noise at source. More information can be found at:

http://agency.osha.eu.inthttp://www.hse.gov.uk/noisehttp://www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/tuc-10724-f0.cfm

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