On 6 April 2006, the Control of Noise at Work regulations replaced the 1990 Noise at Work regulations. The aim of the regulations is to reduce the risk of hearing loss / deafness due to exposure to high noise levels. Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent and incurable. It adds to the hearing loss that occurs naturally through ageing. This can result in a very severe handicap later in life, making it very difficult to hear what others are saying, and spoiling enjoyment of music, etc.
The requirements of the Control of Noise at Work regulations were specified by a European regulation - EU Directive (Physical Agents - Noise). This greatly complicates the situation regarding noise at work. Whereas the 1990 Noise at Work regulations had 3 action levels, the Control of Noise at Work regulations have 6!
However, most companies do not have to concern themselves with 4 of the action levels within the Control of Noise at Work regulations. Most companies only need to be concerned with 2 action levels. These are shown below, together with the main actions required by the Control of Noise at Work regulations:-
1. Reduce noise levels
2. Wear ear protectors
3. Install warning signs
4. Provide regular hearing tests
The 80 and 85 dBA noise limits are average noise levels (Leq) - averaged over 8 hours. Where staff work longer than 8 hours this increases daily noise exposures. For example working for 12 hours (i.e. exposure to workplace noise for 12 hours) increases the daily noise exposure by about 2 dBA. Therefore 83 dBA for 12 hour working is equivalent to 85 dBA for 8 hour shifts.
A major requirement of the regulations is to reduce noise exposure levels at least to below 85 dBA, or the equivalent where shifts are longer than 8 hours - e.g. 83 dBA for 12 hour working. For details of how to reduce noise at work for a low cost and without restricting access for operating and maintaining machines, click on industrial noise control solutions.
There are more details on our guide - 6 ways to reduce workplace noise.
In a few companies, workers are subjected to very high levels of peak noise, e.g. from impacts or sudden air release.
Where a peak noise of 137 dBC is likely to be equalled or exceeded, the above requirements for 85 dBA 8 hour exposure also apply. Where a peak noise of 135 dBC or above is likely to occur, the requirements for 80 dBA 8 hour exposure apply. Such high levels of peak noise are relatively rare, so this only affects a few companies.