5-Step process for Controlling Workplace Noise

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Why do we all need to be controlling workplace noise? According to the HSE, over one million employees in Great Britain are exposed to levels of noise which put their hearing at risk.

Noise induced hearing loss is one of the most prevalent, but often ignored, risks in the workplace and employees must, by law, be protected. Once noise induced hearing loss has taken place it is irreversible. Clearly prevention is the most sensible option here as 1 in 7 of the UK population are either deaf or hard of hearing.

The increasing ‘claim culture’ dictates that companies must comply with their legal duties as detailed in the ‘Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005’. These regulations reduced the previous action levels and also introduced ‘Legal Limits’ for daily noise exposure. These changes were driven by a European Directive in a long term attempt to eliminate noise induced hearing loss in the workplace.

This article provides a 5-Step process for companies who are making efforts concerning controlling workplace noise.

Step 1

Firstly, you need to establish whether there are any noise hazards within your workplace. This can be achieved through a combination of your knowledge of work practices, making straightforward observations and taking some simple noise measurements in areas you suspect may present a risk. Even at this stage you should use an Acoustic Calibrator to calibrate your sound level meter before and after each measurement session and record your measurements.

Step 2

Having found out which areas may be a noise hazard, you need to identify all employees who could be at risk. Evaluate how harm may occur, for instance damage to
hearing, deafness, tinnitus, impaired communication and inability to hear audible alarms. Also, take into consideration susceptible employees or those that already have an existing hearing condition.

Step 3

Controlling Workplace NoiseIntegrating Averaging Sound Level Meter
The person carrying out measurements for controlling workplace noise should have sufficient skills to be competent for the task and use a suitable sound level meter. Ideally, it should be compliant to BS EN 61672-1:2003 Class 1 or Class 2 and from a reputable manufacturer. Representative ‘A’ weighted average noise level readings (correctly written as LAeq) are taken for each ‘task’ undertaken by an employee and then, using either software, mathematical formulae or the HSE exposure calculator spreadsheet (available from www.hse.gov.uk/noise/calculator.htm), determine an individual’s exposure level.

In Figure 1 below, all of the exposures have a value of 80dB(A) but the duration of the respective ‘tasks’ has varied greatly. The 80dB(A) exposure equates to an exposure that just puts the worker into the Lower Action Level category.

Controlling workplace noisePersonal Noise Dosemeter
Alternatively a dosemeter, like the Pulsar noise doseBadge can be worn by a worker during their entire shift. The doseBadge is worn on the shoulder of the person being monitored and measures the noise levels they receive throughout their working day.

This methodology is particularly effective for workers with unpredictable shift patterns, those constantly on the move, or people working in confined or difficult to access areas (vehicle cabins, emergency services, construction workers, mining industry, maintenance staff etc). Often forgotten is the necessity to assess the risk from any impulsive noise (sudden very loud bangs and crashes) which is done by making a ‘C’ weighted Peak measurement (LCpeak). Most modern sound level meters and dosemeters will measure both the LAeq and LCpeak simultaneously.

Controlling Workplace NoiseControlling Workplace Noisewarning signs

  • Prescription of suitable hearing protection where
    required
  • Details of Education / Training program for the
    workforce
  • ‘Buy Quiet’ purchasing policy Health Surveillance
    records
  • Company Noise Policy
  • The prioritised measures to be taken to control noise levels themselves rather than reliance on PPE.
  • Engineering solutions, enclosures, breaking noise transmission paths, use of absorptive materials and so on.
  • Step 5

    The effectiveness of your programme for controlling workplace noise should be regularly reviewed. This will be necessary if new equipment has been introduced or there have been changes to the ‘shop floor’ layout or working hours. For those companies with workers receiving exposures of 85dB(A) or above, your health surveillance programme should highlight any workers whose hearing
    deteriorates due to inadequacies in your noise control programme.