Here we provide an overview of the laws in place regarding noise in the workplace, why they exist and ways you can ensure you adhere to noise regulations.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (the Noise Regulations) was implemented industry-wide in the UK in April 2006, with the exception of the music and entertainment sectors.
These regulations were put in place to protect workers’ hearing from excessive noise whilst they were at their place of employment. Prolonged and unprotected exposure to excessive noise could lead to permanent hearing damage, such as tinnitus, or hearing loss. The regulations that came into force replaced the Noise at Work Regulations 1989.
Currently, noise regulations state that if employees are exposed to an average of 85 decibels, either daily or weekly, employers must provide hearing protection and hearing protection zones. Risk assessments must be carried out, along with information and training when the average exposure reaches 80 decibels. The maximum exposure limit is currently 87 decibels which means employees should never be exposed to noise above this even with hearing protections in place.
The noise regulations do not apply to members of the public exposed to noise from their non-work activities, or choosing to go to places they know will be noisy. Low-level noise that is a nuisance but causes no risk of hearing damage does also not come under the noise regulations.
Employers have a responsibility to their employees within the workplace. This flowchart created by the HSE explains the steps you should take as an employer to manage noise risks.
A Medical Research Council survey from 1997-98 showed that around 509,000 people in the UK suffer from hearing difficulties as a result of noise exposure at work. However, only 74,000 people reported the same in 2004/5 and just 21,000 in 2007/8.
According to the HSE, the number of claims for Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) has declined over the past decade. And this could be attributed to the implementation of noise regulations in the workplace.
The industries with the highest average annual incidence rates are extraction energy and water supply, manufacturing and construction.
This image from HSE highlights the declining cases of noise induced hearing loss from 2006-2015.
Reducing Noise In The Workplace
There are numerous ways to reduce noise in the workplace and the options you choose will be dependent on your unique workplace environment. Often, a combination of methods works best and ensures you minimise the risk of noise exposure completely. Here are just a few ways you can reduce noise in the workplace and make your employees more comfortable:
- Switch to quieter processes and equipment where possible
- Bring in engineering controls such as avoiding metal on metal impacts
- Modify the paths by which the noise travels through the air to the people exposed; such as surrounding noisy machinery or lines with floor to ceiling industrial noise reduction partitions & factory acoustic enclosures or part height freestanding acoustic walling systems
- Design the layout of the workplace for low noise emission i.e. keep noisy equipment away from quieter areas of work and break rooms
- Limit the time employees spend in noisy areas
- Provide hearing protection equipment for employees affected