Understanding Workplace Noise Pollution

Excessive noise in the workplace is more than a mere annoyance. Exposure to excessive noise can cause temporary or, in worse-case scenarios, permanent loss of hearing. Excessive noise can also lead to tinnitus, a distressing condition where you have a constant ring in your ears.

The HSE estimates that over 21,000 workers in the United Kingdom experience work-related hearing impairment or hearing loss. While young people are just as susceptible to hearing damage, they may only realise that their ears are damaged later in life when aging makes it easy to identify hearing loss.

As such, Health and Safety Manager should always adhere to noise regulations at work. They ought to ensure the workplace complies with the Control of Noise at Work Regulations, legislation enacted in 2005. The legislation stipulates requirements employers should adhere to, including:

  1. Assess the risks of noise pollution employees are exposed to.
  2. Make sure the legal limits regarding noise exposure are never exceeded.
  3. Implement all the steps necessary to curb excessive noise exposure to your employees.
  4. Providing employees with hearing protection if you cannot curb the noise production
  5. Inform, train, and instruct employees regarding protection from noise pollution.
  6. Conduct health surveillance where health risks exist.

Is A Risk Assessment Necessary?

If you work in a noisy industry such as highway repair, construction, or at the airport, there is an obvious need for noise monitoring. That said, many employers are unaware of the need to conduct risk assessments. To determine whether a risk assessment is necessary or not, you need to consider the following:

  1. Is the noise level intrusive, and does noise production continue throughout the day?
  2. Does the work your employee conduct involves using noisy machinery and power tools for more than 30 minutes during their work day?
  3. Do your employees raise their voices to try and talk to each other while standing about 2 metres apart?
  4. Does the workplace entail explosive and impact noises? Do your employees use cartridge-operated tools and pneumatic drills?

If you answer yes to any of the questions above about the workplace, you need to take steps to address the noise pollution issues in your workplace with the help of an acoustic consultant such as Auricl.

Action Levels & Limit Values

Before you embark on a risk assessment, it is critical to understand how loud is too loud. In other words, you should understand the action levels and the limit values.

The current legislation mandates employers to take remedial action at specific noise exposure levels. The noise levels are measured in decibels (dB). They are expressed as A-weighted, defining the sound perceived by the human ear, or C-weighted, which establishes the peak sound level over 100 dB. A-weighted sound levels are measured and averaged over a week or day. On the other hand, a C-weighted peak sound pressure measurement is used to monitor the maximum noise recorded daily.

You need to look out for the following values – 80, 85, and 87 dB with these readings:

  • Lower action values
  • Weekly or Daily exposure of 80 dB
  • With peak sound pressure – 135 dB
  • Upper action values
  • Weekly or daily exposure of 85 dB
  • With a peak sound pressure – 137 dB
  • Exposure limit values
  • Daily or weekly exposure of 87 dB
  • With peak sound pressure – 140 dB

It is critical for employers to understand these limits and their significance as set out by legislation and regulations. The limit determines the remedial action the employer should implement.

The Risk Assessment

If your team of employees is exposed to noise problems, the first course of action to take is to conduct Risk Assessment, which involves:

  1. Identify all the noise hazards and the employees who are at risk.
  2. Measuring and determining the level of exposure – importantly, measuring the action levels and the limit values.
  3. Documenting the findings of the assessment.