Trident Medical Services

A Partnership For Your Health At Work.

Exposure to noise at work

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Exposure to noise is one of the most widespread and underestimated of hazards at work.
Exposure to loud noise can cause permanent hearing damage. Recent research suggests 170,000 people in the UK suffer deafness, tinnitus or other ear conditions as a result of exposure to excessive noise at work. (www.tuc.org.uk)

Factors that contribute to hearing damage are; the level of noise you are exposed to; and how long that exposure is – over a day, week, month or number of years.

Who is at risk?
Anyone can be at risk although particular industries most likely to involve noise include:

  • construction
  • demolition or road repair
  • woodworking
  • plastics processing
  • engineering
  • textile manufacture
  • general fabrication
  • forging, pressing or stamping
  • paper or board making
  • canning or bottling
  • foundries.

 Tools and equipment that can cause hearing loss include:

  • hammering
  • drop forging
  • pneumatic impact tools
  • drills
  • chainsaws
  • explosive sources such as cartridge-operated tools or detonators, or guns.

What are the symptoms and signs of hearing loss?
Symptoms and early signs include:

  • conversation becomes difficult or impossible;
  • employee’s family complains about the television being too loud;
  • employee has trouble using the telephone;
  • employee finds it difficult to catch sounds like 't', 'd' and 's', so confuses similar words;
  • permanent tinnitus (ringing, whistling, buzzing or humming in the ears).

Generally hearing loss is gradual. By the time it is noticeable, it is probably too late, hence it is extremely important to prevent hearing loss before it happens. It is also possible to suffer instant damage from very loud or explosive noises.

What noise levels should be of concern?
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Noise Regulations 2005) require employers to take specific action at certain action values. These relate to:

  • the levels of exposure to noise of your employees averaged over a working day or week;
  • the maximum noise (peak sound pressure) to which employees are exposed in a working day.

The values are:

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

The following examples of values are taken from www.industrialnoisecontrol.com:

Decibels

Examples

Possible damage to hearing

150dB

Jet taking off at 25 metres

Eardrum rupture

120dB 

Thunder clap, chain saw

Painful, 32 times as loud as 70dB

110dB

Live rock music, steel mill, turbo fan aircraft at 200ft           

Average human pain threshold. 16 times as loud as 70dB

100dB

Power lawn mower, motorcycle, farm tractor, jackhammer

Serious damage possible in eight-hour exposure

90dB

Power mower, motorcycle at 25ft, newspaper press

Likely damage in eight-hour exposure. Four times as loud as 70dB

80dB

Dishwasher, average factory, freight train at 15 metres, car wash at 20 ft, diesel truck at 40mph at 50ft, food blender

Possible damage in eight-hour exposure. Twice as loud as 70dB

70dB

Passenger car at 65mph at 25ft, vacuum cleaner

Arbitary base for comparison

60dB

Conversation in restaurant, office, background music

Half as loud as 70dB

 

What do the regulations require you to do?
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Noise Regulations 2005) require employers to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work. Employees have duties under the regulations too. As stated by the HSE, The regulations require you as an employer to:

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

As an employer, you must ensure that your risk assessment includes assessing noise exposure. If you are uncertain it is best to take advice. Noise control is not merely about providing earplugs. You need to understand what steps can be taken to prevent noise exposure, what control measures are in place, what training is necessary and what monitoring is carried out. Where necessary the appropriate health surveillance must be carried out to monitor any effects of noise on an employee’s health.

What next?
If you need help with your risk assessment or if you have already carried out your risk assessment and you know what health surveillance is required, get in touch with us and we can help. We can help you to ensure that you are complying with the law whilst protecting the hearing of your employees.

References:
www.hse.gov.uk
www.tuc.org.uk
www.industrialnoisecontrol.com