The Health and Safety Executive estimates that one million employees in the UK are exposed to levels of noise which put their hearing at risk. The risk of hearing damage will depend on the actual noise level (measured in decibels, dB, on a variety of scales), and the length of time they are exposed to that level of noise. A rough rule of thumb is: if two people stand two metres apart and have to raise their voices significantly to be heard, then there is a noise at work issue which should be investigated further. This will mean undertaking an assessment of the problem. Whilst acoustic surveys may be necessary for businesses for whom loud music is part of their operation, it won’t be required in all cases.
It is important to note that legislation about noise at work relates to staff and any freelancers working at your premises, and specifically does not cover customers - Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.
What do I need to do?
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, and associated guidance, contains requirements and information for where noise exposure is likely to be at, or above, any of three exposure values listed below. These exposure values come from the legislation, and are calculated by considering the noise level in the working area, as well as how long people are subjected to that noise during a day and over a week.
Exposure action values
Lower exposure action value = 80dB(A)
Upper exposure action value = 85dB(A)
Exposure limit value = 140dB(C)
Employers are required to take specific measures where these levels are likely to be exceeded, including:
- carrying out noise assessments
- eliminating exposure, or where not possible, reducing exposure to the lowest level practicable
- providing information and training for employees on noise levels and the controls you have decided to use to protect them
- issuing personal hearing protection where there are no other means to reduce the noise below the above levels
If the noise levels are equal to, or above the exposure action values (for example in nightclubs) the following solutions may be used to reduce employees exposure to that noise:
1. Turning the music down to below the lower exposure action value
2. Using directional speakers to direct noise away from where staff are working
3. Zoning of music levels so that sound levels are quieter in work areas
4. Use of compressors and other devices to limit sound
5. Repositioning bars in areas away from noisy areas
6. Provision of quiet areas for staff to go to during their breaks
7. Job rotation to minimise staff exposure times to the loud music
8. Using absorbent, fire safe materials to reduce reverberation in the premises
It is not acceptable to provide ear plugs or hearing defenders to staff members before considering all other ways in which their exposure can be reduced.