The Control of Noise Regulations are intended to protect workers from noise levels that can lead to hearing damage. The regulations set out Exposure Action Values (EAV) for noise exposure levels (averaged out on a daily or weekly basis) and the peak sound pressure for impact or explosive noises; these are:
The key word in the regulations is control and employers must show what actions they have taken to reduce noise levels and hence control noise exposure. To do this, employers will need to carry out a noise assessment, which should be recorded, to assess the risks and determine what, if any, action is required.
The assessment must be carried out by someone who is competent, which may be an individual(s) from within the company or a third party from an outside organisation. It should be noted that a noise assessment is different from a noise survey and care should be taken to ensure that the appropriate assessment is carried out.
Once the assessment is completed, you will be able to decide what controls are necessary to protect your employees’ hearing and develop an action plan to show how you’re going to meet the requirements of the regulations, including ways to control the noise at source and a planned programme of noise control.
It is good practice to review an existing noise assessments if it is more than 2 years old (or if there is any reason to suspect the assessment is no longer valid due to a change in process, equipment or controls that could increase noise levels).
Where exposure is still above the upper EAV after taking engineering controls and/or reductive steps, then appropriate hearing protection must be provided for employees. It should be noted that as the EAVs are measured at the ear they therefore take into consideration the effect of any hearing protection worn.
Adequate instruction, information and training must be provided to ensure that employees understand the need for hearing protection and how to wear the equipment correctly. Employees also have a duty under the regulations to co-operate and use the provided controls and hearing protection and to attend hearing checks.
Health surveillance for hearing damage (i.e. audiometry) is required for those employees who are regularly exposed to levels of noise above the upper EAVs since they will be at risk of hearing damage.
Regular hearing checks can provide an early warning if an employee starts to suffer from hearing damage, therefore meaning action can be taken to prevent further deterioration. These checks can also be a useful way of verifying that noise reduction/control measures are effective.
Ideally, you should start health surveillance before employees are exposed to the noise, so on day one for new starters or those changing roles. Hearing checks should be undertaken annually for the first two years of employment and then at a maximum interval of every three years (unless problems with hearing loss are identified).
The HSE also recommend health surveillance for “especially vulnerable” workers (i.e. those already suffering from hearing damage or that may be more susceptible due to another existing condition) at the lower EAV.