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Workplace noise and vibration

Workplace noise and vibration

The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 place a duty on employers within Great Britain to reduce the risk to their employee’s health by controlling the noise they are exposed to whilst at work. The regulations were established under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and implement European Council directive 2003/10/EC. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 replaced the ‘Noise at work regulations 1989’.  The regulations came into force for most industries on 6 April 2006 with the music and entertainment sectors coming into line two years later on 21 April 2008.

The regulations introduced a number of exposure limits in relation to noise in the workplace. They define the average A weighted sound pressure levels and the peak C weighted sound pressure levels that an employee can be exposed to during an average day or week.

If an employee exposure is above the Lower Exposure Action Value (LEAV) of 80 dB(A) the employer would be required to assess the risk to workers health and provide employees with hearing protections and information and training.

If an employee exposure is above the Upper Exposure Action Value (UEAV) of 85 dB(A) the employer would be required to assess the risk to workers health and provide employees with hearing protection and information and training. They must also ensure that hearing protection is worn and identify high noise zones, and actively control the noise to reduce noise levels. The provision of hearing protection alone is not an acceptable solution and noise must be controlled and designed out whenever practical.

If an employee exposure is above the Exposure Limit Value (ELV) of 87 dB(A) the employer must prevent any further exposure to noise. represented the limit at which employees should not be exposed. At this level the employer must actively control the noise to reduce noise levels by engineering and design, and the use of low noise purchasing policies for selecting equipment and tools. The provision of hearing protection alone is not an acceptable solution and noise must be controlled and designed out whenever practical using Best Available Techniques (BAT).

Table of Noise Exposure Action Values and Exposure Limit

Average exposure level, dB(A) Peak sound pressure, dB(C)
Lower Exposure Action Value 80 135
Upper Exposure Action Value 85 137
Exposure Limit Action Value 87 140


The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 is one of a number of Health and Safety legislations that require the ‘suitable and sufficient’ assessment of risks to employees as a result of work activities. By law the employer has to assess the ‘noise problem’ at work and is required to perform a risk assessment a implement a noise management plan to deal with the noise problem. The employer is responsible for the following:

  • identify where the risk is and who might be affected.
  • contain a reliable estimate of the employees exposure and compare the exposure with the exposure limits and values.
  • identify what is needed to comply with the law i.e. whether noise control measures or hearing protection may be needed.
  • identify any employees who may need to be provided with ‘health surveillance’ and whether any are at particular risk. All employees must be provided with health surveillance if they are identified as being at risk from noise.

Everyone in a heavy engineering or processing industry are exposed to noise and could suffer temporary or permanent hearing loss. The control of noise at work regulations require employers to eliminate or reduce noise levels.

Exposure to noise at work can harm a workers’ health. The most well-known effect of noise at work is loss of hearing. However, noise can also exacerbate stress and increase fatigue and the risk of accidents.

Excessive noise levels can have a significant and life changing impact on workers and in some cases can also impact on residents of the neighbouring community. The following are all examples of adverse noise effects:

  • Hearing Impairment can be separated in to either conductive hearing loss (mechanical blockage in the transmission of sound to the inner ear) or sensorineural hearing loss (damage to the hair cells in the cochlea, in the inner ear).
  • Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common occupational disease in Europe, accounting for about one third of all work-related diseases, ahead of skin and respiratory problems.

NIHL is usually caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise. The first symptom is normally the inability to hear high-pitched sounds, followed by further deterioration, including difficulties detecting lower-pitched sounds.

  • Tinnitus is a ringing, hissing or booming sensation in your ears. Excessive exposure to noise increases the risk of tinnitus. If the noise is impulsive (e.g. blasting), the risk can rise substantially. Tinnitus can be the first sign that your hearing has been damaged by noise.
  • Some dangerous chemicals and substances are ototoxic. Workers simultaneously exposed to ototoxic substances (organic solvents, including toluene, styrene, and carbon disulphide) and to loud noise levels appear to be at greater risk of hearing damage than those exposed separately to the same noise levels or the same ototoxic substances. These chemicals are regularly used in the plastics and printing industries, and paint and lacquer manufacturing industries.
  • Exposure of pregnant workers to high noise levels at work can affect the unborn child. Prolonged exposure to loud noise may lead to increased blood pressure and tiredness. Prolonged noise exposure of the unborn baby during pregnancy may have an effect on the babies hearing after birth. Low frequencies have a greater potential for causing harm to unborn babies. There is a legal responsibility on the employer to adjust the working conditions of the pregnant woman to avoid exposure to noise and vibration.
  • Increased risk of accidents due to noise. This link between noise and accidents is recognised in the ‘EU Noise directive’, where there is a requirement for it to be considered specifically in the risk assessment for noise. Noise can lead to accidents in a number of ways. It can make it harder for workers to hear and correctly understand speech and signals, it can mask the sound of approaching danger or warning signals (e.g. reversing signals on vehicles), it can distract workers, such as drivers, it contributes to work-related stress which increases the cognitive load on the individual, which increases the likelihood of human errors occurring.
  • Noise can disturb speech and communications in the work place. Effective communication is essential in the workplace, whether it is a factory, building site, call centre, or school. Good speech intelligibility and communication requires a speech level at the ear of the listener that is at least 10 dB higher than the surrounding noise level. Theoretically, controlling the reverberation time with a work space can reduce the ambient reverberant noise levels which improves speech transmissibility and communications.
  • Work-related stress occurs when the demands of the work environment exceed the workers’ ability to cope with (or control) them. There are many contributors (stressors) to work-related stress, and it is rare that a single causal factor

leads to work-related stress.

The work environment can be a source of stress for workers. Occupational noise, even when below a level that requires action to prevent hearing loss, can still be a stressor. Examples of this would be the frequent ringing of a telephone or the persistent hum of an air-conditioning unit.

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