Noise at work

Employers have a duty to eliminate exposure to noise of their employees and others affected – ideally by combating the noise at source. The UK’s Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 identify levels at which various actions need to be taken by the employer.

These levels refer to daily personal noise exposure, defined as the personal exposure to noise at work (over an eight-hour day), taking account of the average levels of noise in working areas and the time spent in them.

The current action levels are as follows:

• First action level. A daily personal noise exposure of 80dB(A) and a peak value of 112 pascals.
• Second action level. A daily personal noise exposure of 85dB(A) and 140 pascals.
• Limit value. A peak sound pressure of 87dB(A) and 200 pascals. The limit value will take into account the reduction afforded by hearing protection.

If an employee is exposed to the first action level or above, but below the second, the employer must provide suitable and sufficient personal ear protection. However, it is not compulsory for workers to use it. If an employee is exposed to the second action level or above or to the peak action level or above, the exposure to the noise must be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable (excluding the provision of ear protection). If it is not reasonably practicable to reduce the noise, an ear protection zone must be identified; ear protection must be provided to all workers exposed, and the employer must ensure it is worn.

Employees have a duty to comply with and use the measures the employer introduces and to report any defects or difficulties in complying with the Regulations. Information and training must be provided for all employees likely to be exposed to the first action level or above.