Noise is defined as ‘a sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance’. It is a form of energy that is transmitted by pressure variations which the human ear can detect.
Hearing damage caused by exposure to noise levels can be permanent and incurable, and the effects can be immediate, or take effect over a long period of time. Research suggests that over 2 million people are exposed to noise levels within the working environment that may be harmful.
Within a workplace, noise can be formed by many sources; people talking, machinery, equipment, and even the radio or music playing in the background.
Legislation covering Noise at Work includes the Control of Noise at Work Regulations, which were brought into action in 2005. The Regulations identify two ‘action levels’, which ultimately provides employers with a framework to follow.
The first action level (lower level) is set at 80dB (Decibels), the second action level (upper level) is set at 85dB. These levels can be measured against a day’s exposure, or against a weekly exposure. A weekly exposure should be used if the exposure during the week is likely to have dramatic changes.
How do you know if you are producing, or working in an environment that has the potential to reach those action levels?
Well, there are a few different ways;
- One simple way to identify an issue is the ‘2m Rule’. If you are having a normal conversation with another person, stood approximately 2m apart, and are struggling to hear each other, it’s likely that you may be exceeding the noise thresholds of the action levels.
- Look at the information guides for the machinery and equipment you are using. There will be information held within the guidance documents which will identify the noise levels being emitted by the equipment or machinery.
- Conduct a noise assessment.
What you need to do with the findings:
If your assessment of noise deems that you are exposing employees to daily or weekly levels in excess of the first action level (80DbA), let the employees who are potentially affected know about this fact. Get them engaged with the protection of their own health and safety. You need to be taking actions that are deemed reasonably practicable to reduce the noise exposure negatively affecting employees; think about technological changes and shift rotations. As a last resort, provide personal protective hearing devices for the employees to select to wear if they want it.
If you are in excess of the second action level, again your first option must be to consider technological changes to the equipment that is producing the noise. Consider staff rotation changes, provide a warning to employees and those who may enter that environment, that the working area is a ‘Hearing Protection Zone’. For personnel working within this area, and where the noise levels cannot be reduced further by other means, personal protective hearing protection MUST be worn. This needs to be a mandatory requirement and enforced.
Additionally, when exceeding the second action level, health surveillance needs to be provided to those individuals affected to make sure that their hearing isn’t deteriorating over time.
Further information and guidelines can be found at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/l108.htm