Most workplaces expose us to noise. The louder the noise, the more damage it can cause. Noise and vibration can cause long-term damage to our senses.
Hearing and touch can be severely affected by exposure to excess levels of noise and vibration.
If people are having difficulty hearing what others say, or must shout to be understood at one metre, noise levels are likely to be damaging.
What are the risks of excessive noise?
Excessive noise causes permanent damage to hearing. Loud noises can cause hearing loss either progressively, or by exposures over a long period.
Damage can be caused immediately by exposure to peak sound waves produced by explosive sounds such as gunfire, explosions or cartridge operated tools.
Anyone can be exposed to excessive noise levels. Those working in noisy workplaces, factories, foundries, working with power tools, plant and machinery, and in noisy environments such as road works, airports and construction sites are among those most at risk.
Assessing and controlling noise risks
Employers should assess noise levels to find out whether they are at or above the action values and to identify problem areas or procedures. This will allow controls to be prioritised. A competent person should carry out Noise Assessments.
Employers must first try and eliminate or reduce exposure to noise by means other than hearing protection.
Methods of reducing noise in working environments often require more than one solution, as noise will be produced from several sources.
Until methods to reduce noise levels using engineering or procedural controls have been identified, the employer should provide hearing protection as a first step. This will allow investigation of the suitability of other controls.
Reducing and eliminating sources of noise
There are many ways to reduce noise levels.
Introduce the methods that protect the maximum number of those exposed first.
Control measures include:
- implementing a quieter way of doing the work
- using quieter pieces of equipment
- introducing a low-noise purchasing policy for new equipment
- improving maintenance procedures – good maintenance can reduce noise from friction and moving parts.
- fitting silencers to exhausts
- isolating or damping vibrating machinery by fitting anti-vibration mounts
- adding sound absorbing material to vibrating panels to reduce vibration
- enclosing noisy machinery
- erecting barriers and screens around noisy machinery and processes
- positioning noisy machinery and processes well away from workers
- using sound absorbing materials to reduce reflection of sound within buildings
- limiting access by keeping people out of noisy areas
- limiting time spent in noisy areas.
Hearing protection should only be considered as a temporary measure, or as a last resort where a risk remains after steps have been taken to reduce noise levels.
Employers should make hearing protection available where noise levels are between the lower and upper action values.