Employers within the UK have a legal obligation to reduce the risk to their employees’ health by controlling the noise they’re exposed to in the workplace. This has been set down in ‘The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005’, legislation designed to protect employees from being exposed to potentially harmful levels of noise.
Failure to abide by ‘The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005’ has the potential to expose employees to high levels of noise, which could result in heightened stress levels, tinnitus and even permanent hearing loss.
What’s more, inadequate noise risk assessments leave companies open to the possibility of criminal prosecution. Therefore, it’s important to know how to properly carry out noise risk assessments for your work environment.
Firstly, Do You Have A Noise Problem?
The first thing an employer would need to do is decide whether you have a noise problem. This depends on how noisy the work environment is and how long workers are exposed to the noises.
A noise risk assessment will probably need to be performed if any one of the following workplace criteria applies:
1. Are there intrusive noises for most of the working day?
2. Can employees communicate easily without raising their voices/shouting?
3. Can employees hear potential warnings or hazards?
4. Do employees use noisy tools/machinery for more than 30min every day?
5. Are there noises due to impacts, explosive sources, or guns?
6. Do you work in a noisy industry?
There are exposure limits, set in decibels (db) which set out how noisy a work environment can be:
Table of exposure limits:
The exposure levels were set in decibels (db) and given either an ‘A’ weighting, representing the average exposure or a ‘C’ rating, representing the peak exposure.
Carrying Out A Noise Risk Assessment
The aim of a noise risk assessment is to help employers decide what they need to do to protect employees who are exposed to noise.
A noise risk assessment should:
1. Identify any potential risks resulting from noise.
2. Identify who’s potentially affected by these risks.
3. Identify employees who might need health surveillance.
4. Identify what you need to do to comply with legal obligations, e.g. Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as earplugs.
5. Contain a reliable estimate of your employees’ exposures, and compare the exposure with the exposure action values and limit values.
It’s important that risks are identified to protect employees from being negatively affected by the environment that they are working in.
Estimating Employees’ Exposure
An estimate of employees’ exposure is exactly what it sounds like – estimating the amount of noise that employees are exposed to. The estimate needs to include:
• The work employees do or are likely to do.
• The ways in which employees do the work.
• How this work might vary from one day to the next.
The estimate needs to be based on reliable information, such as measurement from the workplace being assessed, measurements from similar workplaces, or measurements from machinery suppliers.
All findings from a noise risk assessment need to be recorded, along with an action plan that includes a timetable detailing who is responsible for what work.
The noise risk assessments will need to be reviewed regularly. Any changes in workplace conditions, noise levels, etc. will require an immediate review.
Competence of The Risk Assessor
It’s important that a noise risk assessment is:
• Conducted by someone competent in noise risk assessments.
• Based on advice from someone competent in noise risk assessments.
If no one within the company is competent to carry out noise risk assessments, it would be necessary to go to external consultants to conduct and/or advice on noise risk assessments.
Don’t carry out a noise risk assessment unless you know what you’re doing – it’s a legal requirement and therefore will result in legal ramifications if not done to a sufficient standard. There are external consultants who can be brought in to conduct or advice on noise risk assessments, ensuring they’re done to the legally required standard.