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Too much noise at work can lead to permanent hearing damage and other adverse effects, such as temporary hearing loss, tinnitus, inability to sleep (leading to fatigue, poor concentration levels and increased blood pressure) and stress.

The symptoms of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) can start with sounds becoming distorted or muffled – this worsens so gradually that the individual may not be aware of the deterioration until it has a significant impact on their day-to-day life.

Noise affects many businesses in different ways. It’s not only their own activities, but neighbours or a unique feature of the location (e.g. crowds and traffic on a high street, or planes taking off near an airport).

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations places a duty on employers (and the self-employed) to prevent or reduce to a minimum, the risks to the health and safety of workers and others to noise (or themselves) as a consequence of exposure at work.

  • Get a noise assessment carried out by a competent person to establish the noise levels in the workplace. The data gathered will need analysing, to work out the level of risk to workers and others. The assessment should include:

    - a measurement of the worst case scenario (i.e. all noise sources operating at once);

    - the highest noise levels under normal working conditions;

    - records of noise levels;

    - records of the working practices that produce noise, including duration of exposure and actual use of hearing protection;

    - hearing protection not being used, worn incorrectly or in poor condition;

    - any training provided to operators; and

    - any safety issues related to the assessed noise levels (e.g. it may be difficult to hear alarms).

  • Develop an action plan for a noise control programme if levels are above the upper Exposure Action Level (EAV)*. This should include specific recommendations to reduce exposure to noise, preferably below the lower EAV, such as:

    - changing the working practices;

    - changing equipment to reduce noise levels at source;

    - minimum specification for hearing protection; and/or

    - provide information, instruction and training for employees.
  • Monitor noise levels on a regular basis and review this aspect of your risk assessments before and after making changes in the workplace (e.g. new equipment or processes).
  • Develop a health surveillance programme that includes hearing checks (audiometry) for employees frequently exposed to noise which is (without taking account of the noise reduction provided by hearing protection):

    - regularly above the upper EAV; and/or

    - occasionally above the upper EAV or between the upper and lower EAVs, and where a person may be at particular risk, e.g. due to existing hearing loss.

  • Assess the hearing of new starters and those changing roles before they start work.
  • Develop a ‘buy quiet’ purchasing policy for new plant and equipment.
  • Include noise hazards in all health and safety risk assessments, and also in your fire risk assessment, looking at whether alarms will be heard.
  • Keep an open mind about what might cause noise. Machinery isn’t necessarily the most prolific source and instead it might be roll cages (for example).


* The Control of Noise at Work Regulations set upper and lower Exposure Action Values (EAV). These are the levels of exposure averaged over a working day or week and the maximum noise (or peak sound pressure) to which employees are exposed in a working day:

  • Lower EAV – daily or weekly exposure of 80dB(A); peak sound pressure of 135dB(C)
  • Upper EAV - daily or weekly exposure of 85dB(A); peak sound pressure of 137dB(C)

The decibel scale that is used to measure noise is a logarithmic scale; a 3 decibel increase in noise levels equates to a doubling of the exposure.

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