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Health and Safety

Noise and Vibration

Noise is unwanted or unpleasant sound. Exposure to high noise levels can cause incurable hearing damage. The effect that it has depends on the noise level (measured in decibel units as dB(A)) and the exposure time. Damage most commonly occurs due to exposure over a period of time, a single noise can also cause instantaneous harm. Once damage occurs there is no cure.

Some typical noise levels are shown below.

  • 0dB(A) Hearing Threshold
  • 60dB(A) Normal conversation
  • 70dB(A) Traffic
  • 90dB(A) Tube train, typical process plant
  • 100dB(A) Pneumatic drill, chain saws
  • 120dB(A) Diesel engine room
  • 140dB(A) Threshold of pain

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 Link to External Website came into force for all industry sections in Great Britain on 6th April 2006, except for the music and entertainment sectors, where they came into force on 6th April 2008.

The aim of The Noise Regulations is to ensure that workers' hearing is protected from excessive noise at their place of work, which would cause them to lose their hearing and/ or to suffer from tinnitus (permanent ringing in the ear).

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 replace the Noise at Work Regulations 1989

The Noise Regulations 2005 require employers to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work. Employees have duties under the Regulations too.

The Regulations requires you as an employer to:

  • Assess the risks to your employees from noise at work
  • Take action to reduce the noise exposure that produces those risks;
  • Provide your employees with hearing protection if you cannot reduce the noise exposure enough by using other methods;
  • Make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded;
  • Provide your employees with information, instructions and training;
  • Carry out health surveillance where there is a risk to health.

The Regulations do not apply to:

  • Members of the public exposed to noise from their non-work activities, or making an informed choice to go to noisy places;
  • Low-level noise which is a nuisance but causes no risk of hearing damage.

Do you have a noise problem at work?

This will depend on how loud the noise is and how long people are exposed to it. As a simple guide you will probably need to do something about the noise if any of the following apply:

  • Is the noise intrusive- like a busy street, a vacuum cleaner or a crowded restaurant- for most of the working day?
  • Do you employees have to raise their voices to carry out a normal conversation when about 2 m apart for at least part of the day?
  • Do your employees use noisy powered tools or machinery for more than half an hour each day?
  • Do you work in a noisy industry e.g. construction, demolition or road repair; woodworking; plastics processing; engineering; textile manufacture; general fabrication; forging, pressing or stamping; paper or board making; canning or bottling; foundries?
  • Are there noises due to impacts (such as hammering, drop forging, pneumatic impact tools etc), explosive sources such as cartridge- operated tools or detonators, or guns?

Noise can also be a safety hazard at work, interfering with communications and making warnings harder to hear.

How is noise measured?

Noise is measured in decibels (dB). An 'A-weighting' sometimes written as 'bD(A)', is used to measure average noise levels, and a 'C-weighting' or 'dB(C)', to measure peak, impact or explosive noises.

You might just notice a 3dB change in noise level, because of the way our ears work. Yet every 3 dB doubles the noise, so what might seem like small differences in the numbers can be quite significant.

To prevent a person's hearing being damaged by excess noise, follow the steps laid out below:

Step 1

Decide if there is a problem. A risk assessment will help you decide whether any further action is needed. If 2 people standing less than 2m apart have to shout to be heard then you will need to have the noise levels assessed by a competent person and keep a record of the results.

  • What are the Noise levels and limit values?

The Noise Regulations require you to take specific action at certain action values. These relate to:

  • The levels of exposure to noise of you employee averaged over a working day or week; and
  • The maximum noise (peak sound pressure) to which employees are exposed in a working day.

The values are:

  • Lower exposure action value: Daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB; Peak sound pressure of 135 dB
  • Upper exposure action values; Daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB;, Peak sound pressure of 137 dB.

There are also levels of noise exposure which must not be exceeded:

  • Exposure limit values: daily or weekly exposure of 87 dB; Peak sound pressure of 140 dB.

These exposure limit values take account of any reduction in exposure provided by hearing protection.

Step 2

Where the assessment shows that any employee is exposed to occupational noise exceeding the values stated above; the noise level must be reduced.

Methods for achieving this include:

  1. Reducing the noise produced
    • replacing worn machine parts
    • placing machinery on rubber mountings
    • changing the machine to a quieter model
  2. Reducing the time the machine is used for or the length of time the employee spends in that area
  3. Enclosing the machine so that there is a barrier between the employee and machine

Step 3

If the noise cannot be reduced to below the required level you should provide ear protection to all employees exposed. The PPE selected should suit all employees and they should be consulted.

Step 4

Provide information and training to staff about the risk to hearing and what they can do to minimise these.

Provide signage to remind staff to wear ear protectors.

Step 5

Monitor the situation to ensure that the controls are effective and ensure that all ear protectors are maintained in good condition.

Step 6

Provide hearing tests for employees at risk.

Step 7

Keep records of all the steps taken to reduce noise.


Vibration may be a problem for operators of heavy machinery e.g. chain saw, pneumatic tool operators, and drivers of heavy vehicles. The vibration from the equipment can cause the blood vessels in the hand to narrow, causing nerve and muscle fibre damage. This can also cause damage to bones and joints resulting in osteoarthritis, coldness, pain and loss of sensation. The common name for this type of condition is Vibration White Finger or Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome. At worst, the condition may lead to amputation of the affected area.

Control Measures

These include:

  1. Change of working practices to eliminate use of vibrating machinery
  2. Selection of equipment that does not vibrate within the range 5 - 350Hz (this is the most damaging frequency)
  3. Control of exposure time
  4. Proper machine maintenance
  5. Provision of protective equipment

Guidance on the 2005 Regulations can be found in the free HSE leaflet 'Noise at Work' (INDG362 (rev 1)) and in HSE's priced book 'Controlling Noise at Work' (L108) (ISBN 0 7176 6164 4) available from HSE Books or from bookshops, price £13.95

More information can also be obtained by ringing the Environmental Health Department on 0161 342 3778

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