Is a Noise Exposure Survey Required if Ear Protection is Already Provided?
Noise exposure surveys are required in all workplaces where noise has the potential to cause harm to employees. Exposure to dangerous levels of sound can easily go unnoticed; it is therefore a vital consideration. Although certain levels of noise may not ‘feel’ dangerous, long-term exposure can lead to permanent hearing damage. As a result, it is important to ensure a noise exposure survey is regularly carried out.
How Can I Tell if My Workplace is too Noisy?
A simple ‘rule of thumb’ can be used determine whether or not there are dangerous levels of sound in any interior environment. Noise levels are potentially dangerous if people have to shout to be heard when standing only one metre apart. If this occurs there is a very real risk that employees will suffer hearing damage. If you have reason to believe your employees are at risk, it is especially important to take immediate action by employing the services of a professional.
What if My Workplace Already Has Protective Measures?
It is important to note that not all equipment provides sufficient protection against exposure to noise; simply handing out ear plugs or ear muffs to employees is not sufficient. As a rule of law, you must follow procedures outlined by the Health and Safety Executive; failing to do so means you are not carrying out the necessary health and safety obligations, and you may be putting your employees at unnecessary risk.
How Can I Ensure Compliance?
Ultimately, the only way to ensure compliance is to seek professional support.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 state that an assessment has to be undertaken by a competent (experienced and qualified) occupational hygienist. As part of this assessment, noise dosimeters – calibrated to industry standards – will be used. Dosimeters are specialised sound meters that monitor noise exposure. The equipment will be used in certain locations around the premises, and also on the being of workers. The resulting data will build up a picture of noise levels throughout your business, and a ‘site map’ will be produced.
In order to ensure ongoing adherence to HSE guidelines, your business’ noise levels and protective equipment must be regularly reviewed.
What Happens After the Noise Exposure Survey?
Here is our guide to implementing a noise reduction strategy to ensure compliance:
1. Write a Risk Assessment
The information from the noise measurement survey should be used to write a risk assessment relating to noise. Equally, your risk assessment needs to identify the areas and times where there may be a noise risk for your employees and who will be affected. The data from the survey will provide you with the necessary information from which to produce a suitable risk assessment.
2. Reduce Noise at Source
After producing a risk assessment, you are now in a position to implement changes to working practices. Your first consideration should always be to reduce noise at source wherever possible. This can often be achieved through various means; considering this, you need to develop an implementation strategy and timeline. However, if it is not possible to reduce noise levels at source, this should be documented, along with the reasons why.
3. Implement Effective Personal Control Measures
Suitable hearing protection must be provided if it is not possible to reduce noise levels sufficiently by other means. Under these circumstances, protection recommendations will be made, including industrial ear defenders; such equipment includes an SNR (Single Number Rating) rating on the side. It is crucial to use ear defenders with an SNR rating appropriate to the environment in which they are to be used. The site map provided through the assessment will show which protective equipment should be used in each location.
Should I Just Use Ear Defenders with a High SNR Rating?
No. Somewhat surprisingly, it is possible to ‘overprotect’ against noise. Noisy environments are often hazardous; therefore, it is important to ensure employees are sufficiently aware of the equipment and people around them. Consequently, it is absolutely crucial to ensure each member of staff has the right level of protection in the right location.
What are the Daily Limits of Exposure?
Noise limits are described as ‘Action values’ – the different levels of noise exposure at which employers must take preventative action.
The Lower Exposure Action value is 80dB(A). Employers must provide workers with information, training and also make hearing protection available for exposure to noise at or above this level,
The Upper Exposure Action value is 85dB(A). The employer must take reasonable steps to reduce noise exposure for average sound levels above this value . This also includes the provision of hearing protection if necessary.
The exposure limit value is 87db (A) – indeed, this is the level above which workers cannot be exposed.
What Else Do I Need to Consider?
Within your plan, you need to include relevant details of those persons who require health surveillance. It is your responsibility to monitor your staff’s hearing, especially that of those who already have a hearing condition. Procedures should also be created to allow for effective implementation going forward.
Your plan must also include all relevant information, instruction and training for your staff. Remember, you must record the findings of your risk assessment, and furthermore, in order to be compliant with the law you need to record actions that have been taken, or those that you intend to take.
When Should I Review These Practices?
You should review your risk assessment if circumstances change or if it no longer meets industry guidelines. Examples include if working practises change, affecting workers’ exposure to noise; or if there are changes to the availability, applicability or cost of noise-control measures.
Generally speaking, you should check whether or not a review is needed at least every two years.
At Workplace Exposure, we are well placed to ensure you are operating a safe working environment. Contact us to find out how we can help.
Get in touch with Workplace Exposure, either give us a call on 0800 689 4386, or fill in our enquiry form to discuss your monitoring or consultancy requirements.
We’ll then provide you with a no obligation proposal, we can often give an initial idea of fees whilst we discuss your needs.
Once you’ve accepted our proposal we can then schedule the work.
Following our site visit we’ll provide you with a comprehensive report giving you advice, recommendations and control measures where appropriate.
Implement the outcomes for compliance and a happier healthier workplace.