Noise is classified as unwanted sound. Exposure to noise at work can lead to significant harm to your health and potentially an increased risk of deafness.
The HSE, reports that there are 17,000 people in the UK that suffer deafness, ringing in the ears or other conditions caused by excessive noise at work. As an employer you have a legal obligation to prevent employees and others from the exposure to noise by The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.
Noise can be generated from a wide range of sources including: electric powered hand tools; such as a drill or hand grinder; the use of petrol lawn mowers and tasks that create excessive banging. These processes over time can cause hearing loss.
Noise damages the hair-cells in the inner ear, damage first occurs around 4kHz, after a gradual period of exposure. Noise is measured in decibels that are A-weighted. A-weighting is used in noise measurements as it applies to all types of noise whereas C-weighting applies to high impact sounds such as explosive.
Workers who experience hearing loss often report a ringing, electric buzzing, hissing or a whistling sound, this is known as Tinnitus. Tinnitus can be very unpleasant for people to live with; therefore, it is so important to carry out regular monitoring of the workplace, and reduce the likelihood of hearing loss and tinnitus.
Guidance for Employers
As an employer if you work in a noisy environment you must record noise measurements. If you obtain noise measurements that are 80dB(A) you need to look at your working practices to see if there are any controls that can be put into place to reduce the noise emittance.
For example can you eliminate the noise hazard completely, if not, can you reduce the hazard by purchasing equipment that has silencers installed for example, or switching to equipment that generate less noise. This may not be applicable to all noisy equipment as some noise is there for safety, such as audible reversing alarms on fork lift trucks.
If the noise levels meet or exceed 80dB(A) you must inform your employees there is a risk to their hearing, advise them on the health effects caused by exposure to noise and provide hearing protection when requested, additionally, if the noise measurements are at 85dB(A) you have a legal requirement to provide ear protection and the area that they must be worn in needs mandatory signs. When the levels are at 85dB(A) or more then you must carry out health surveillance, which requires hearing checks to be carried out on your workforce.
To conclude, employees who regularly work in noisy environments that have a lower daily/ weekly exposure of 80 dB or an upper daily/ weekly exposure of 85 dB must be protected. It is imperative to implement procedures to protect your workers from hearing damage and which could if unchecked leave you and your organisation vulnerable to legal action.