Noise Management at Work: Risks, Precautions & Control Measures

May 17, 2017
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If you’ve ever listened to music too loud and had a slight ringing in your ears afterwards, then you’ve experienced what it’s like for excessive noise to impact your hearing, albeit temporarily.

An estimated 17,000 people in the UK are suffering from permanent hearing damage due to noise at work.

noise management workplace ppe earmuffs

In many workplaces, excessive noise from work activities or machinery can impair hearing permanently over time – without the person even realising it’s happening. To comply with the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, those in charge of a premises must protect people’s hearing and overall health and safety by controlling noise levels in their workplace.

Noise Hazards in the Workplace

Without suitable measures, high levels of noise can easily interfere with work-related activities and pose a risk to people’s health and safety. For example: loud machinery or appliances such as power drills, or working on or near construction, demolition, or engineering.

Noise that is intrusive for the majority of the working day, and requires employees to raise their voice to communicate, is a risk and must be controlled.

There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the impact of loud noise in the workplace. We’ve outlined some advice to help you decrease the risk of damaging your hearing permanently.

How do I know if I’m at risk?down53

noise talking communication construction

Noise hazards are not always obvious and the effects are not immediate. This makes them hard to identify. A trailing cable that could trip people up is an obvious hazard with immediate consequences. But noise hazards naturally come from machinery or work activities, and therefore might be simply accepted as something that ‘comes with the job’.

Even more problematic is the fact that hearing damage happens overtime. Excessive noise could take months or even years to have a permanent effect on the person exposed. Even then, the effects can be so gradual that the person may not notice until it’s too late to do anything.

Have a think about whether or not any of the following questions apply to you:

  • Do you work in a noisy industry, e.g. construction, woodworking, textile manufacturing, engineering, etc.?
  • Are noisy powered tools or machinery used for over half an hour a day?
  • Do you have to raise your voice during normal conversations when only 2 metres apart from other people?
  • Is noise generated due to impacts, e.g. hammering?
  • Is noise intrusive for most of the working day?
  • Do you have muffled hearing at the end of the day, even if it’s better the next morning?

Did you answer yes to one or more of these? If so, it’s possible that you are working in an environment with noise hazards. And you wouldn’t be the only one.

noise hazards saw

An estimated 2 million people in Great Britain are exposed to dangerous levels of noise at work.

What risks do hazardous levels of noise cause?down53

Noise hazards can lead to hearing loss at work, which can be very debilitating and in most cases permanent. It can cause:

  • Temporary hearing loss – mildly irritating and disorienting.
  • Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) – permanent hearing loss.
  • Tinnitus – a permanent ringing or buzzing in the person’s ears.
  • Stress – aggravating levels of noise and noise-induced hearing loss can affect people’s day-to-day activities, leading to feelings of anxiety and stress.

ear muffs hearing protection noise management

Hazardous levels of noise can also compromise health and safety.

  • Employees may not be able to effectively communicate with one another.
  • It can reduce people’s awareness of their surroundings and hazardous work activities, e.g. vehicles.
  • People may struggle to concentrate properly and carry out their tasks safely if they feel irritated by high levels of noise.
  • Hazardous noise may drown out important warnings, such as fire alarms.

How can I reduce the risks posed by noise?down53

All those in charge of a premises are responsible for noise management. They should put in place control measures to reduce noise hazards in the workplace and prevent hearing loss at work. Employees need to comply with these arrangements and have a general awareness of noise at work to protect their hearing and that of others.

noise employer training

Employers should:

  • Purchase equipment with noise emissions that are as low as possible.
  • Train employees in the safe and effective use of machinery so they don’t generate more noise than they should.
  • Monitor noise levels generated by work activities and machinery in the workplace on a regular basis – use noise measuring equipment.
  • Have procedures in place for reducing noise to an acceptable level and minimising exposure, for example sound barriers and screens.
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees when you can’t reduce levels of noise to an acceptable level.

If your workplace doesn’t have sufficient measures in place such as these, speak to senior staff and express your concerns.

What are the suitable control measures?down53

noise management earmuffs

These control measures can help prevent noise hazards in the workplace from leading to hearing loss at work:

  • Implement engineering controls, e.g. adding materials to reduce the vibration and noise from machine panels.
  • Redesign or reorganise the workplace, e.g. erecting enclosures, barriers, or screens to block sounds’ direct path and reduce exposure.
  • Adhere to noise at work action levels. The acceptable daily noise exposure in the workplace is 85dB(A) averaged over an eight hour period. There are other action levels employers must adhere to depending on the decibel exposure and duration people must work in these conditions.
  • Implement a job rotation system. This prevents people from being exposed to noise for unnecessary lengths of time.
  • Provide information, instruction, and training to employees. This enables them to use equipment properly, minimise risks, and catch symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss early on.
  • Issue hearing protection, e.g. ear muffs or ear plugs. PPE should not be worn all the time however. Restrict use to when it’s only absolutely necessary.

Actions should be taken to reduce noise levels before using PPE. But if other measures fail to work or are impractical, then PPE must be issued.

Other means take precedence over PPE because PPE only prevents exposure; it doesn’t reduce noise at the source. If the hearing protection is ineffective or misused, the person will still be at risk.

chainsaw noise hazards

Plus, hazardous noise from your workplace may irritate others who enter the premises or neighbouring businesses.

Making the effort to minimise noise pollution benefits everyone in the long run; it ensures that people are alert at work and can fully concentrate on work activities. Make noise management at work a priority so that nobody’s hearing every suffers detriment.

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