Legal Article - Health & Safety

Noise at Work Regulations 1989

Hard on the heels of the COSHH Regulations, which broadly dealt with the effects of chemicals on employees health, we now have new Regulations to reduce the damage to hearing caused by loud noise in the workplace.

The action required by the Regulations depends upon the level of exposure. There are three significant noise threshold levels:

1. A First Action Level of 85db(A) over a working day. Very roughly this is a level at which most people need to shout to be clearly understood by someone two metres away.

2. A Second Action Level of 90 db(A) over a working day. Very roughly this is a level at which most people need to shout to be clearly understood by someone one metre away.

3. A Peak Action Level of 200 pascals (equivalent to 140 db). This is likely to be linked with the use of cartridge operated tools, shooting guns and similar loud explosive noises. In most cases workers exposed above this level will also be exposed above 90 db(A), so this action level is likely to be important where workers are subject to a small number of loud noises during an otherwise quiet day.

Employers must arrange for an adequate noise risk assessment to be made if employee's exposure is likely to reach any of the action levels. The risk assessment should identify which employees are exposed and provide enough information about the noise for the employer to decide what action is needed.

Adequate records of the assessment must be kept which are in an intelligible and readily retrievable form. For noise levels between 85 db and 90 db levels employers must provide suitable and sufficient ear protectors to employees who request them.

There is no requirement placed on either employers or employees to make sure they are used, but the employer must maintain them in a good condition At 90 db(A) and at Peak Action Levels employers must reduce noise where reasonably practicable by means other than the provision of personal ear protectors by either reducing the noise levels in the working environment, or the time workers spend in noisy areas.

Where this is not reasonably practical the employer must ensure employees have and wear ear protectors whenever they have to work above that level.

Employees must co-operate by wearing ear protectors, properly using any other noise control equipment and reporting any defects they may find.

Where these noise levels occur the employer must designate the work area as an 'Ear Protection Zone'. As far as is reasonably practicable these zones must be marked in compliance with BS5378 and make sure that everyone who enters them is wearing ear protectors.

An 'ear protection zone' sign is also necessary to make employees and visitors aware of the potential heightened noise level.

Employers have to provide information, instruction and training for their workers. This is to include information about the risk of damage to hearing, what the employee can do to minimise the risk, how the employees exposed to between 85 db and 90 db noise levels can obtain ear protectors and the employee's obligations under the Regulations.

Machine makers, suppliers etc. have to provide adequate information with machines likely to cause noise exposures of 85 db or more.

Published: 23 Mar 2011

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