Assessing and managing the level of noise in your work environment can help prevent your employees from suffering any hearing impairment and damage. According to IOSH, noise-induced hearing loss is the most preventable occupational health condition in the world. Without the correct health and safety measures in place, exposure to loud noise, particularly over a prolonged period, can affect the delicate hairs in the inner ear and lead to diminished hearing, hearing loss or hearing conditions such as tinnitus.
On average, one million workers in the UK are exposed to harmful noise levels and 1 in 5 of those will go on to suffer permanent hearing conditions. Not only can harmful noise levels result in potential significant consequences for the individual, they can also interfere with the way your workers communicate with each other and can reduce a person’s awareness of their surroundings. This puts your people at greater risk, which could then lead to other potential accidents and injuries as well.
This is why assessing the noise risk in your workplace is essential. If there is deemed to be a noise issue, you might need to implement a variety of preventative measures to protect your workers. This could include avoiding prolonged exposure to noise, changing the layout of your premises, assessing the type and effectiveness of the PPE you provide, and looking at noisy equipment in use in your business to see if f engineering controls can be implemented that attenuate the noise.
What do the regulations say?
Managing noise in the workplace is a legal requirement, governed by the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 and enforced by either the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or your local authority. These regulations outline your responsibilities as an employer, including, for example, to conduct a suitable and sufficient noise risk assessment that puts in place controls to protect employees and prevent noise-induced hearing conditions.
Noise can be generated in multiple ways in the workplace, but common sources include transport, machinery, electric and pneumatic tools, music, power generators and plant rooms.
How to conduct a noise risk assessment
As an employer, you are required by law to assess the risks your employees face from exposure to noise. The assessment will help determine whether your staff are exposed to noise levels above or below certain levels known as action values. These levels are measured in decibels and you are required to take action if your assessment finds that workers are exposed to noise reaching the following limits:
- A lower exposure action value (equivalent to 80 dB)
- An upper exposure action value (equivalent to 85 dB)
- An exposure limit (equivalent to 87 dB)
Not all workplaces will expose employees to the risk of high-level noise. For example, a typical conversation takes place at around 60 dB. As a rule of thumb, if a normal conversation cannot be heard at a two-metre distance, it is likely an exposure action value has been reached and you need to take action.
If you find your workplace has high levels of noise, there are a number of actions you can take to control this. Our health and safety experts can provide advice on the exact steps to take, following the hierarchy of control to determine what practical and effective risk management strategies are best placed in your organisation. We consult across a wide range of industries, so we are familiar with best practice control measures in multiple sectors that manage exposure to noise risks.
For work environments that have high levels of noise, you may be required to take additional measures to protect your employees. For example, instituting an ongoing health surveillance programme to monitor employees’ hearing on an ongoing basis. We work closely with a number of surveillance providers and can advise businesses as to how they can meet their responsibilities, including typical costs and the required frequency of surveillance.
The cost of getting it wrong
Failing to risk assess employees’ exposure to noise risks properly and failing to monitor employees’ hearing at regular intervals, could have disastrous consequences – not just for your employees, but for you as a business.
Industrial hearing loss claims are growing more common the HSE estimated that 17,000 workers had work-related hearing problems between 2017/18 and 2019/20. Such claims can be expected to reach from around £8000 for slight hearing loss, to around £30,000 for severe hearing loss.
However, in addition to potential claims from affected employees businesses can be prosecuted for failing to meet their regulatory duties too. If you are worried about noise and the impact on the health of your employees, get in touch.
If you are a business that works with noise-generating equipment, or in noisy environments, and you need the help of a competent person to assess your noise risk and advise on the appropriate mitigating measures, you can get a free Health and Safety consultation with the expert team at Southalls to find out how we can help.