Understanding Hazards – Noise

There are two main causes of hearing damage:

  1. the long-term, cumulative effect of exposure to loud noise. This isn’t about simply being in a room where there are loud noises (for example, from noisy machinery or music) but is about a slow effect that will build-up over time and is irreversible.
  2. exposure to one-off loud bangs or extreme noise that may cause temporary or permanent deterioration in your hearing or may even deafen you. For example, quarry workers, mine workers and the military can be at risk from exposure to sudden blasts.

Distraction and stress from unwanted noise, particularly where work requires attention to detail, can also reduce workers’ performance.

As a rough rule of thumb, if the general noise is so loud that you can’t reasonably hear a normal conversation at a distance of two metres, then you probably need to take action.

As a duty holder, you’ll need to identify how bad the problem is. To do this, they’ll need to make noise measurements – this will give them a noise map showing where the problem areas are. They’ll need to engage a competent person to do this survey. In addition to the loudness of the noise, they’ll need to take into account the length of time people work in the area. A quieter noise for a long period of time could be just as damaging as a louder noise for a short period.

Depending on the levels of noise, you’ll need to implement certain control measures – for example, systems of work that limit exposure time and providing quiet areas for breaks, soundproof enclosures, quieter machinery and hearing protection. If members of their team are routinely exposed to more than a certain level of noise (the action level), they’ll need to consider introducing a health surveillance programme.

Encourage your team members to:

•  Work with them to tackle noise problems.

•  Check their noise exposure away from work – noisy hobbies can damage hearing as much as noisy work.

•  Wear ear plugs or ear defenders when doing noisy work and make sure that:

–  they fit properly.

–  they’re appropriate for the type of noise they’re exposed to.

–  they’re clean and undamaged.