The role of the employer in Occupational Noise Exposure
Work-related stress is experienced when the demands of the work environment exceed the employee’s ability to cope with these demands. It often results from a combination of risk factors that can include the exposure to workplace hazards (e.g. dangerous machinery, loud noise) and the work environment itself (e.g. poor lighting, ventilation, noise). Some noise may have a tonal quality, which may cause a particular nuisance and increase an individual’s stress.
A noisy workplace increases the risk of accidents in two ways; firstly, high noise levels can make it difficult to hear sounds of danger and warnings. Secondly, noise affects attention and concentration levels. This results in information being processed less efficiently, reflexes working slower and increased risk-taking behaviours. The employee is less conscious of noticing risks and emergencies and therefore increases the chances of accidents to occur.
Exposure to high noise levels (without proper hearing protection), continuously or in single bursts, from work equipment can have multiple physiological and psychological effects on workers’ health and safety, including stress, tinnitus (ringing/buzzing in the ears) and even permanent hearing loss.
Employers in industries that work with loud or excessive noise or above a lower exposure action value (85dB) are liable to ensure that a risk assessment is carried out in consultation with employees and their representatives. The risk assessment must be updated regularly or when there are any changes in the noise levels of the work environment.1
The control of noise exposure at work requires employers to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that safety measures are implemented to protect the employees from the harmful effects of excessive noise exposure, and the duty of the employee to follow these regulations. The regulations2 require that the employer perform the following tasks2:
- Assess the risks to your employees from noise at work;
- Take action to reduce the noise that produces those risks (such as: equipment, vehicles, processes);
- Ensure risk from the exposure of workers to noise is either eliminated at the sound source or, if not possible, reduced to as low a level as practicable;
- Provide your employees with hearing protection if you cannot reduce the noise enough;
- Ensure that the noise does not exceed the legal limits of 90dB over an 8 hour weighted average work period;
- Provide the employees with comprehensive information on the importance of hearing preservation, the need to abide by giving instructions and appropriate training;
- Ensure that health surveillance is implemented where there is a risk to health.
The regulations do not apply to2:
- Members of the public exposed to noise from their non-work activities, or making an informed choice to go to noisy places;
- Low-level noise that is a nuisance but causes no risk of hearing damage.
How to ensure that your employees are protected from noise:
- Identify the reasons for the excess noise and employ a programme to reduce it;
- Provide hearing checks and audiometric testing to determine the effect of the noise on the employee’s health;
- Provide adequate and appropriate hearing protection. In cases of excessive noise, customised hearing protection is necessary for every employee that is exposed;
- Develop and control access to hearing protection zones. These are areas where staff can only be admitted if they are wearing hearing protection;
- Noise must not exceed the upper limit (the ‘exposure limit value’) of 87dB of daily or weekly exposure, and peak sound pressure of 140dB, taking into account the hearing protection being worn;
- The employer must maintain the protective equipment, monitor the health of exposed workers and provide information and training to exposed employees in order to ensure compliance and protection;
- Ensure the display of clearly visible and legible signs indicating that the noise level in the area is likely to exceed the regulated limits and one is at risk for hearing loss if hearing protection is not used.
Every employer must inform each potentially affected employee and their representatives of the following1:
- The results of the noise evaluations and the possible risk to their hearing;
- Entry hearing assessment results to provide a baseline threshold to
determine any change in hearing abilities following employment;
- Results of preventative audiometric testing;
- Information on measures taken to reduce the noise levels;
- The importance and significance of wearing customised hearing protection:
- Hearing and health checks that are available to the employees by the
- Any effects on employees safety and health resulting from any
interactions between noise and work-related ototoxic substances, and
between noise and vibrations;
- If there is an extension beyond the normal working hours, the employer
must consult with his or her employees and make an appropriate
assessment to reduce the risks involved;
- Notify employees when alternative equipment is made available to reduce
- Design and lay out the workplace for low noise emission, (e.g. use
absorptive materials within the building to reduce reflected sound, keep
noisy machinery and processes away from quieter areas and where people
spend most of their time):
- Provide employees with the opportunity to provide feedback and ideas
toward a safer work environment.
As an employer, particular attention should be given to the following, when carrying out a risk assessment1:
When an employer is carrying out a risk assessment the regulations require that he or she takes reasonable steps to ensure that the assessment meets the requirements of the regulations, even if the assessment is being carried out by persons outside the company.
- The level, type and duration of the exposure;
- The work employees carry out or are likely to carry out;
- The routine in which work is carried out by employees;
- Variations in the type of work;
- Identification of an immediate risk;
- Identification of what is possible to control, and how the risk can be reduced;
- The exposure limit values and the exposure action values;
- The availability of alternative equipment to reduce noise emission;
- Ear protection that is available and must be worn.
The purpose of the noise regulation in the workplace is to ensure that people do not suffer damage to their hearing. This means seeking solutions and alternatives wherever noise poses a risk. Keep up with good practice and the standard for noise control within your industry. In instances where noise are below the lower exposure action values, risks are low and so you would only be expected to take action which are relatively inexpensive and simple to carry out. Where employees are likely to be exposed at or above the upper exposure action values, ensure that a planned programme of noise control is carried out.3
1. Health and Safety Authority (HSA), (2007). Noise- Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from: https://www.hsa.ie/eng/Topics/Physical_Agents/Noise/Noise_-_Frequently_Asked_Questions/.
2. Health and Safety Executive (HSE), (2005). Employers responsibilities- legal duties. Retrieved from: https://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/employers.htm and https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/Media_142352_smxx.pdf.
3. United States Department of Labor, (2020). Occupational Noise Exposure. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/noise
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