Loss of hearing is one of the largest occupational hazards suffered by employees. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005) sought to reduce the risk of employees suffering damage to their hearing by providing directions regarding managing noise in the workplace.
Unfortunately the Regulations are not adhered to as strongly as they should be. It is often the case that an employer does not appreciate how important it is to do a workplace assessment until it is too late and they are facing an accident at work claim.
This article provides some basic tips on how to manage noise pollution in the workplace and how to adhere to the Noise Regulations, this could help you avoid accident at work claims:
1. Know your levels - most employers do not know what level of noise is acceptable and what invokes the statutory restrictions. Essentially noise is measured in decibels written dB and it is either measured as an average (dB(A)) or by impact noise i. e. one-off explosive amounts of noise (dB(C)). Under the regulations if the average level of noise (measured over the period of one week) is between 80-85 dB(A) and if there is one-off impact noise measuring 135-137 dB(C) you should be providing protective equipment for employees and evoking other safety checks. As well as this, average noise in the workplace should not exceed 87 dB and peak noise should not exceed 140 dB.
2. Do a risk assessment of the working environment - completing risk assessments regularly should mean that you maintain your working environment at levels lower than those stated in the regulations. This will also mean that if you do have to expose your employees to high levels of noise, you can do so without having to be worried about leaving yourself open to an employment law claim. Use the risk assessment to identify areas in which there are particular high noise levels and which employees have the most exposure. Record the findings of your assessment and use this as a basis for designing a schedule of improvements. You can then refer to this record when you do a reassessment in the future.
3. Make changes to reduce noise - prevention is always better than finding a cure, so bare this in mind when purchasing new machinery. Check what level of noise it will make when operating and then see if you can choose a quieter model. Talk to the manufacturer about installing the machinery in such a way which enables it to be more noise friendly. Ask them what maintenance you can do to ensure that the noise levels do not increase over time. For current machinery look into noise reducing measures such as inserting absorption pads to reduce machine vibrations (also know as ‘damping') or check a machine is mounted properly off the floor. If possible raise noise barriers between areas to prevent the noise from travelling across the workplace. An easy change to make is to separate a quiet area away from the machinery so that employees can use for ‘noise breaks’. Where possible try to rotate employees around so that not one person is consistentlysubjected to high noise levels.
4. Purchase good quality ear protectors - a good quality ear protector should aim to get high noise levels down to below 85 dB at the ear. When buying ear protectors ensure that the design will fit around any other safety kit employees may have to wear i. e. helmets. You must consider that not all employees will be comfortable with sharing ear protectors (for hygiene reasons), therefore make sure that you order enough to go around everyone. If you have taken the time to buy protective equipment then make sure that your employees are wearing it whilst at work. If you make it a rule that employees must wear the equipment and they do not, then this will allow you to argue contributory negligence on their behalf. If you are going to enforce wearing the protective equipment as a rule, then you should back this up with consequences for non-compliance .