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Workplace Noise Awareness | Injury & Risk Reduction

Updated: Apr 27


Noise awareness is one aspect of health and safety that includes assessing risks posed by loud or prolonged noises and finding ways to reduce the risks.


 

In this Article:



 

Why is Noise Awareness Important?


Noise Awareness is an important part of a workplace health and safety policy, it covers what risks are present that can cause hearing injuries and explores what types of preventative measures can be put in place in order to reduce or remove these risks.


 

UK Noise Exposure Limits


If the level of noise is above 80 decibels information and training should be provided to employees so they understand the risks of exposure.


The noise exposure limit in the UK is 85 decibels, if an employee is exposed to noise at 85dB or above employers should provide them with hearing protection and hearing protection zones.


The exposure limit is 87 decibels meaning workers should never be exposed to this level of sound, taking into account safety measures such as ear plugs.


 

The 3 Elements of Noise


There are 3 elements of noise that can contribute to a hearing injury. Each of these 3 elements poses different hazards that can cause noise-related hearing loss.


1. Intensity / Loudness


The intensity of a noise is measured in decibels and has the potential to cause damage to hearing the louder the noise gets.


2. Frequency / Pitch


The frequency of a noise is measured in hertz and can cause significant damage to a persons hearing if the pitch is very high. Usually low pitch noises only cause hearing damage if they are very loud and persist for a longer period of time.


3. Duration / Time Exposure


The time someone is exposed to a noise is a major factor in determining a risk of hearing damage. If someone is exposed to noise even with an intensity below what is considered a harmful level, they can still suffer injury through being exposed to the noise for a long period of time.


 

earmuffs hung on a rail

Safety Precautions for Noise


There are multiple ways to mitigate the risks posed from noise exposure. These safety precautions are designed to protect people from hearing loss caused by noise exposure.


Hearing Protection PPE


Hearing protection can be worn by the individual to give them protection from noise exposure anywhere they work. This is the most convenient form of protection in the workplace as it is low cost and offers multiple forms such as:


  • Ear Defenders / Ear Muffs

  • Ear Plugs

  • Canal Caps


Engineering Controls


Many sources of noise come from machinery, in some instances this machinery can be modified in order to reduce the amount of noise that is produced. As machinery advances the noise reduction technology has improved resulting in reduced noise levels in workplaces.


Noise reducing barriers can also be implemented around the sources of sound which can drastically reduce the noise heard for people working in close proximity. These barriers are made from noise absorbing materials and are a convenient method of risk reduction.


Properly maintained equipment will also reduce the amount of noise that is produced and is generally required on all machinery which can make this a convenient way of reducing the amount of noise in the workplace.


Administrative Controls


Some administrative controls can be implemented in order to reduce exposure of noise, for example the amount of employees working in high risk areas can be reduced. Workers who need to work in loud environments can be rotated so that no single person has to experience prolonged exposure to hazardous sounds.


In situations where a noise may pose a temporary risk to health workers can be removed from that environment until the noise levels have reduced.


Assessment


Regular noise risk assessments should be undertaken in areas where harmful noise is present or in cases where a new noise risk has been introduced e.g. a new piece of machinery. Measurement equipment such as dosimeters and sound level meters can be used to measure the amount of noise present in any given area.


Regular Hearing Tests


Regular tests that monitor hearing can be a good indicator of weather or not there is adequate control measures in place. If the results of hearing tests are getting worse it is a sign that more hearing protection is required to keep people safe.


Site layout


The location of each source of noise can be placed strategically in order to reduce noise exposure for example putting noisy machinery in places away from walkways or commonly used workstations.


Training


By educating people on the risks of noise exposure you can emphasise the importance of people hearing protection, encouraging them to use their PPE. Also people could be trained on using equipment in a manor that produces less noise and how to properly maintain equipment to reduce noise exposure.


 


UK Noise Regulations


The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005

This regulation defines the level of noise that workers can be exposed to without a risk of injury. There is also guidance on what measures employers can put in place to keep workers safe. The regulations also state that assessments of noise levels should be carried out regularly to monitor noise levels.


Control of Pollution Act 1974

This act gave local authorities the power to deal with noise that is caused by any source if it exceeds a certain level. This allows authorities to issue noise abatement orders and control the amount of noise that is emitted from locations such as construction sites at set times.


Noise Act 1996

This specific act set the limits allowable for noise at night, between 11pm and 7am. This was specifically created for residential properties that were causing noise pollution for this neighbours. It covers permitted noise levels and actions that can be undertaken to investigate and prevent issues involving excessive noise.


 

Injuries Caused by Exposure to Noise


Exposure to noise can cause a few different injuries, some minor and some life changing. The severity of these injuries is caused by 3 different factors - Intensity, duration and individual vulnerability.


Some of the injuries caused by noise exposure include:


Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be long term or short term, some injuries caused by less sever noise exposure can heal after a short amount of time. Other injuries can become progressively worse and cause permanent damage to hearing. The most severe type of hearing loss is caused by sudden trauma and can cause in instant loss of hearing, this can happen when exposed to very loud noises such as explosions.


Hyperacusis

This is a increased sensitivity to sound that may be considered normal volume and is caused from damage to the inner ear caused by either old age of exposure to loud noises.


Tinnitus

This hearing condition is less well researched and it is not 100% known what causes it in all cases. Exposure to loud sounds is one of the known causes for tinnitus to develop


 

Injuries caused by Noise Exposure in 2023


In 2023 the HSE published figures stating that there was an estimated 11,00 cases of work related hearing issues on average between the years 2020 - 2023. This showed a decrease in injuries from the previous 3 year period which showed an average of 17,000 injuries per year from 2017 - 2020.


The reduction in cases is attributed to increased provision from employers such as improved hearing protection and more frequent workplace assessments.


 

Noise Awareness Training


Noise awareness training is one way to reduce the risk of sustaining a workplace noise related injury by educating workers on the risks of noise exposure. This allows people to identify possible sources of harmful noise where they may have not previously and also emphasises the importance of using the correct PPE.


If you or your staff work in areas with loud noise we recommend that they take our noise awareness training course.


 

Frequently Asked Questions


What are weekend noise laws in the UK?

How late can Power Tools be used in the UK?

What is the definition of Noise at Work?


 

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