What the recent changes to the Noise at Work regulations mean for you
It has been more than 15 years since the Control of Noise at Work Regulations were introduced to replace the earlier guidelines of 1998 and 1989. The 2005 revision saw substantial changes and improvements made to the legislation, making it more apparent to employers what their obligations are and the standard of equipment that should be used to monitor, measure and control noise in the workplace. A cumulation of minor amendments to the 2005 Regulations has prompted a completely new revision to be published. In this article, noise experts Cirrus Research explore the changes made, what they mean for employers and the best solutions for ensuring compliance with these updated regulations.
What are the significant changes made to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations?
Health and safety professionals will be pleased to learn that the Regulations, essentially, remain the same, which means very little will change in practical terms. There are, in fact, only three changes to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations; including amendments to the definitions of an enforcing authority and a self-employed person, at regulations 2 and 3, respectively, and a change that recognises the serial amendments concerning import duties for PPE.
The fact that so few changes have been made to the 2005 Regulations reflects their comprehensiveness and suitability. Primarily, the Regulations are there to protect employers from the risks associated with exposure to excessive noise levels in the workplace, including life-changing conditions such as hyperacusis, tinnitus and other health issues such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and mental health conditions.
What do the Regulations say about protecting people in the workplace from noise?
While health and safety professionals rush to read through the latest edition to see how the changes may affect them or their business, it’s worthwhile taking the opportunity to look again at the Regulations to refresh your understanding of what they say. Given that noise at work is one of the most overlooked health and safety risks, you can never be too familiar with your responsibilities as a health and safety practitioner. The fines for potential breaches can be severe, not to mention the devastating lifelong conditions noise can cause.
The biggest thing to know is that noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable, so long as businesses and employers take the correct steps to eliminate (where possible), reduce, control and monitor noise when and where required.
The primary focus of the Regulations, as per Regulation 6, is to eliminate the risk at source, or where that is not possible, reduce it to as low a level as is reasonably practicable. Providing hearing protection is a secondary objective, only where an organisation cannot sufficiently reduce noise levels at their source. All employers must ensure that an individual does not breach the exposure limit value:
Exposure limit values (Regulation 4, paragraph 3):
- A daily or weekly personal noise exposure of 87dB (A-weighted); and
- A peak sound pressure level of 140dB (C-weighted).
In addition to the exposure limit values, the Regulations highlight lower and upper action values, between which employees are potentially at risk from noise:
Lower exposure action values (Regulation 4, paragraph 1):
- Daily or weekly personal noise exposure of 80 dB (A-weighted); and
- A peak sound pressure level of 135dB (C-weighted)
Upper exposure action values (Regulation 4, paragraph 2):
- Daily or weekly personal noise exposure of 85dB (A-weighted); and
- A peak sound pressure level of 137dB (C-weighted)
What can health and safety practitioners use to measure and monitor noise in the workplace?
There are two main types of noise measurement equipment available for monitoring noise in the workplace: handheld sound level meters and personal noise exposure meters, known as noise dosimeters. Sound level meters are ideal for measuring noise in environments that expose employees to similar types of noise throughout their working day or when you need to measure one specific area. Dosimeters are perfect for when employees work across different locations in the workplace that expose them to varying levels. As an employee wears a dosimeter on their shoulder, it indicates their typical daily exposure.
It’s essential to ensure that whatever equipment you’re using meets the latest standards and provides the data readings you need; most importantly, LAeq (A-weighted’ average’ noise level) and LCPeak (C-weighted Peak noise level).
Other important parameters are:
- %Dose: the percentage dose projected forwards over eight hours
- LEP,d / LEX,8h: the average A-weighted noise exposure level for a nominal eight-hour working day, calculated from the measured sound exposure, the measurement time and the reference eight-hours
- LED,w: the total noise exposure experienced by an employee during a typical working week. It’s similar to LEP,d, but calculated for a 40-hour week instead of an eight-hour day
- 1:1 octave bands: a detailed breakdown of the noise into its frequency bands, which you can use to help choose the most appropriate hearing protection based on the exact nature of the noise that is measured
So, what about hearing protection?
Hearing protection plays a vital role in the defence against excessive and dangerous noise levels. As highlighted earlier, although the primary objective of any business is to eliminate or reduce noise at its source, this is not always possible. Once you have explored all other options (the Control of Noise at Work Regulations list several measures limiting an individual’s daily/weekly noise exposure), you must provide hearing protection to reduce exposure to at least below the upper action value.
However, providing hearing protection isn’t as simple as buying the best value earplugs or ear defenders. Health and safety practitioners must ensure that employees are neither under- nor over-protected against noise. Under-protection may still result in hearing loss; over-protection presents additional health and safety risks, for example, workers being unable to hear and react to safety alarms.
Using a sound level meter or noise dosimeter with 1:1 octave band analysis, such as the Optimus+ Red or doseBadge5, in conjunction with software like NoiseTools from Cirrus Research, you can pick the most appropriate hearing protection from a comprehensive database of suppliers and manufacturers.
Cirrus Research plc has over 50 years’ experience in the noise measurement industry, providing easy-to-use acoustic solutions for all sectors worldwide. If you find yourself in need of new and better noise measurement equipment or are looking for advice and guidance on how to manage the noise levels in your workplace, feel free to get in touch with one of our experts, who will be happy to answer any queries you may have.
T: +44 (0)1723 891655