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How to do a Workplace Noise Risk Assessment

Updated: May 1

a sound level meter

A workplace noise risk assessment analyses the level of noise in a given setting and aims to manage the hazards faced by employees by implementing control measures at specified exposure levels.


 

In this Article:



 

What is a Noise Risk Assessment?

 

A noise risk assessment is legally required by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to be carried out by employers in a loud work environment to ensure their staff are working in a safe environment free from harmful noise levels.


The risk assessment will identify any hazards that can be caused by the noise and will ensure employers implement certain safety measures to lower the noise level and protect their employees.


The HSE states that a risk assessment should:


  • “Identify where there may be a risk from noise and who is likely to be affected;

  • Contain a reliable estimate of your employees' exposures, and compare the exposure with the exposure action values and limit values;

  • Identify what you need to do to comply with the law, e.g. whether noise-control measures or hearing protection are needed, and, if so, where and what type; and

  • Identify any employees who need to be provided with health surveillance and whether any are at particular risk.”


 

 

Action Values and Limit Values


Action values and limit values are given to us from the HSE as a clear threshold for noise exposure limits. At each value specific action should be taken to ensure the safety of employees and reduce the damage caused by noise.


Action Values

Action values are points at which action should be take to protect workers from damage to hearing. HSE provides lower and upper exposure action values to determine what control measures should be put in place to keep the work environment safe.


Lower Exposure Action Values

At the lower exposure action value employers are required to assess and control the risks of noise exposure. This could include carrying out noise risk assessments and implementing control measures such as barriers to reduce exposure.


Employers are also required to provide PPE, information and training when workplace noise exposure reaches the lower exposure action values.


The lower exposure action values are the following:

  • Daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB(A)

  • Peak sound pressure of 135 dB(C)

Upper Exposure Action Values

At the upper action value for noise exposure employers are required to take additional measures to decrease the level of noise staff are exposed to. Some safety measures employers could implement at this level include engineering controls to reduce the noise created by running machinery and providing more substantial hearing protection.


If noise levels cannot be reduced through implementing engineering measures employers must provide more substantial PPE to reduce exposure.


The Upper exposure action values are the following:

  • Daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB(A)

  • Peak sound pressure of 137 dB(C)

 

Why are Noise Risk Assessments Important?

 

A noise risk assessment is very important as it ensures that all workers are safe and not constantly exposed to loud noise depending on the tasks they have to complete. For example, if a worker has to use loud machinery all day, the risk assessment will determine the noise level, compare it to the limit values and then decide what safety measures to implement such as wear ear protection.


A noise risk assessment is also important because a noisy workspace can cause physical and mental health issues for employees constantly exposed such as hearing loss, tinnitus and migraines as well as increased stress, anxiety and fatigue. It can also affect workers’ concentration and reduce productivity.


It is a legal requirement to perform a noise risk assessment to ensure workers perform to the best of their ability every day. This will protect the employees’ health and wellbeing and create a quieter and more productive workspace.



A RISK ASSESSMENT

 

The 3 Steps to Noise Risk Assessments

 

There are 3 important steps to carry out when performing a noise risk assessment to ensure all factors are checked and managed accordingly.


1. Identify the Sources of Noise


Employers must first identify which machines and work equipment are causing the noise. They must also determine which employees are at risk of exposure to this loud noise.


A regular inspection should be performed to identify the noises made in the workplace and every time a new piece of equipment is incorporated into the working day.


There is a legal noise limit put into place by the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 which states the maximum noise exposure limit is 87 dB(A). If the noise level in the workplace exceeds this level, workers must never be exposed without protective equipment provided such as ear protection.


2. Analyse the Severity of the Noise


The HSE provides action and limit values that determine how long workers are able to work at specific noise levels. The risk assessment will analyse the noise level from the machine and using the table below, will determine the maximum amount of time each worker can spend on that particular activity.

Noise Level (dB)

Maximum Duration

80

8-12 hours

85

4 hours

87

2 hours

90

1 hour

95

15 minutes

100

5 minutes

105

2 minutes

 

The HSE also provides a calculator that uses exposure points for each task which are added up to determine the length of time a worker can listen to certain levels of noise both daily and weekly.


For example, to stay below 80 dB(A) daily the added up exposure points must be within 32 points. As stated above the maximum exposure limit daily is 87dB(A) and this works out to 160 exposure points. To stay below 85 db(A), the worker must stay within 100 exposure points.


3. Implementing in Control Measures


Once the noise level risks have been identified, safety measures must be put into place to ensure the noise is at an acceptable volume for workers using the machines and those in the nearby vicinity.


These control measures could include:


  • Hearing protection – Employers are required to provide workers with hearing protection such as noise cancelling earphones and headsets to reduce the noise.

  • Hearing protection zones – Create a space that is noise free where workers can take a break from the noise.

  • Workspace screens and partitions – These act as barriers and protect workers from the noisy machinery and equipment.

  • Isolate the noise source – Employers can designate certain areas for the noisy equipment to be used away from the main working areas.

  • Sound absorbing wall panels – These absorb the sound to effectively reduce the workplace noise level.

  • Regularly maintain equipment – Regularly oiling the machinery will prevent deterioration and quieten the excessive noise.


The control measures should be implemented immediately and workers should also be adequately trained to learn how to wear certain PPE correctly and how to maintain the machinery to ensure everyone is kept safe and healthy at work.


If workers are still exposed to high noise levels after certain safety measures have been put into place, they must then be provided with the appropriate hearing protection to be worn at all times during the noisy task.


The control measures should effectively manage the workplace noise levels to ensure all workers are protected and not over exposed to loud noise.


 

Workplace Control Measures

 

The workplace control measures are put into place to reduce and even eliminate the noise level and further protect workers’ health.


These control measures will include:


  • Hearing protection – Employers are required to provide workers with hearing protection such as noise cancelling earphones and headsets to reduce the noise.

  • Hearing protection zones – Create a space that is noise free where workers can take a break from the noise.

  • Workspace screens and partitions – These act as barriers and protect workers from the noisy machinery and equipment.

  • Isolate the noise source – Employers can designate certain areas for the noisy equipment to be used away from the main working areas.

  • Sound absorbing wall panels – These absorb the sound to effectively reduce the workplace noise level.

  • Regularly maintain equipment – Regularly oiling the machinery will prevent deterioration and quieten the excessive noise.

a man wearing ear defenders
 

When to Carry Out a Workplace Noise Risk Assessment


A workplace noise risk assessment should be carried out regularly to ensure all workers are always safe and working within the noise exposure limits.


It is also essential that a noise risk assessment is performed every time there is a significant change in the workplace such as with the addition of new machinery or new employees.


If a new machine is brought in that makes high levels of noise, a risk assessment must be performed to determine how long workers can use it for and if necessary hearing protection equipment is required. Also, new and existing employees must receive adequate noise training to learn the essential knowledge and skills regarding noise in the workplace.


 

UK Regulations on Noise at Work

 

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 is the HSE regulation associated with noise in the workplace. This regulation provides all employer responsibilities to prevent and reduce risks to health and safety and ensure every worker is protected from loud noise exposure when completing tasks at work.


HSE employer responsibilities:


  • Identify and manage risks from noise at work.

  • Reduce risk by implementing suitable safety measures.

  • Ensure the noise level never exceeds the maximum exposure limit.

  • Provide employees with the correct hearing protectors and how to wear them correctly.

  • Provide employees with appropriate information, training and instruction.


It is essential that both employers and employees receive adequate training on how to control and prevent excessive noise at work to ensure everyone is safe and not continuously exposed to loud noises in the workplace.


Please Note:

These regulations only apply to employers and employees in workplaces and do not apply to members of the public that have been exposed to loud noise levels from non-work activities or people who make a decision to go to a noisy place.


 

Injuries Caused by Exposure to Noise

 

Loud noise in the workplace, if not maintained properly, can cause serious injuries to workers. The most common injury caused by over exposure to loud noise is hearing loss. This can be temporary or permanent depending on the severity of the injury.


Below is a list of injures that are caused by loud or prolonged noise exposure:


  • Tinnitus - A ringing or buzzing noise in the ear.

  • Threshold Shift - Temporary or permanent threshold shift is a reduction in hearing sensitivity also known as hearing loss.

  • Hyperacusis - A condition that causes increased sensitivity to noise, sometimes resulting in pain.

  • Auditory Processing Disorders - A cognitive condition that causes difficulty in basic auditory processes like comprehending language and speech.

  • Sound Perception Disorders - A disorder that causes individuals to struggle separating speech from background noise.

  • Mental Health Conditions - Constant exposure to loud noise can cause increased stress and anxiety. Additionally people experiencing noise exposure may have difficulty concentrating and increased irritability.

 

Carrying out regular risk assessments is vital to ensure workers are always healthy and safe at work. Regular assessments also ensure employers are fulfilling their responsibility to keep their workers safe by implementing safety measures to reduce and prevent injury.


a man with ear pain
 

Avoiding Excessive Hearing Protection


It is vital that the workers are provided with the correct level of ear protection as there is the possibility of over protection. There are different protectors available depending on the noise level and the single number rating value.


If the noise level is reduced to below 70 dB, the workers will not be able to hear any warning signals or communication and will be isolated from the environment and unable to hear any potential danger.


 

a link to a noise awareness course

 

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