What the HSE says

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (the ‘Noise Regulations’) require you to eliminate or reduce risks to health and safety from noise at work.

Depending on the level of danger, you should:

  • Take action to lessen noise exposure. 
  • Provide staff with personal hearing protection.
  • Make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded.
  • Maintain and ensure the use of noise controlling equipment.
  • Deliver employee instruction, information and training.
  • Carry out health surveillance to monitor workers’ hearing ability.

The Regulations apply where work activities expose people (including your employees or other individuals affected by your work activities) to health and safety risks from noise.

Recent developments

COVID-19 has brought a new awareness of the two-metre distance to the manufacturing sector. This is relevant for noise safety as it is the same distance at which people with normal hearing can have a conversation where the background noise is at a safe level.

With a causative link to hearing damage, excess noise carries serious long-term health implications. Under the HSE’s current focus on health, workplace noise issues are very much on inspectors’ radars – and among the easiest breaches to detect during a visit. 

To help you protect staff and avoid HSE penalties, The Control of Noise at Work 2005 Regulations outline clear requirements on excessive levels of noise and practical measures to prevent them: 

Noise surveys 

If social distancing is hindering colleagues from hearing each other across your site, consider downloading a smartphone noise measurement app to assess factory noise levels. Although these tools can’t be relied upon for any sort of due diligence or occupational health purposes, they indicate whether a noise risk assessment (commonly known as a noise survey) could be needed. 

If you’re using a noise app, note that the measurement scale can be somewhat complex. For example, an increase of 10 decibels equates to sound being heard as twice as loud, although the sound intensity doubles every three decibels. 

It is worth remembering that the law essentially requires you to carry out a survey within a noisy manufacturing environment. The risk assessment should be conducted using suitable and calibrated equipment and performed by a competent person, such as a Southalls consultant. 

Failure to undertake a noise risk assessment upon the request of an inspector will likely result in a Fee for Intervention of £157 per hour and could trigger the service of statutory notices on your business, which may affect your insurance premium and will lead to prosecution if not acted upon.

Simple ways to reduce workplace noise risks 

  • Modify or cease noisy tasks wherever possible to decrease the general noise levels across your site.
  • Purchase the quietest equipment when specifying new machinery and tools.
  • Consider noise screens or enclosures around machinery to limit worker exposure to noise.
  • As noise exposure relates to both level and duration, curb threats by rotating job roles or changing working practices.
  • Meet your legal requirements by providing signage and appropriate PPE in areas where noise is above the lower exposure action value of 80 dB, and ensuring PPE is worn in spaces where noise is above 85dB.
  • Make sure that PPE is CE marked (or UKCA marked from 2022) and has suitable levels of attenuation for varying degrees of noise exposure.  
  • Manage noise risks by zoning factories to eliminate the need for PPE throughout. 
  • Be aware of other hazards when using PPE, as it may minimise employees’ abilities to hear forklifts and other equipment.
  • Honour your legal obligation to provide health surveillance for all staff who are likely to be frequently subjected to upper exposure action values, or are at risk for any other reason, such as existing hearing loss or sensitivity to damage.

Need further guidance on cutting noise levels across your manufacturing site? Visit our services page for details on workplace noise assessments or speak to an experienced Southalls consultant on 0345 257 4015