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Advice for purchasers

Your responsibilities

Do consider noise-related issues before buying plant or machinery. Asking a few questions at this stage could prevent some nasty surprises once the equipment is in use.

You have a duty under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1988 (PUWER) to ensure that the tools and machinery you provide to your employees are suitable for the work they do. This means you must take account of any possible effects on the health and safety of your employees – including the effect of noise emissions.

What you should expect of manufacturers and suppliers

Manufacturers must control risks from noise:

  • at source (quiet cutter shapes, optimised operating speeds, quiet methods of ejection etc) 
  • by protective measures (partial enclosures, screens, sound-deadened panels etc)
  • by providing information about the remaining noise , with advice on:
    • further noise control for intended use
    • machine set-up, maintenance, selection of consumables
      • suitable hearing protection

Some manufacturers have devised effective noise control and others have not. The use of proven noise controls is inconsistent between market sectors and between manufacturers in the same market sector. There are differences in the degree of noise control built into equipment and in the quality of information provided about noise.

You should expect manufacturers to provide:

  • information about residual noise risk – e.g. where the ‘standard noise test code’ is known to give a misleadingly low indication of the noise hazard when the tool or machine is in use.
  • information about safe use – e.g. how to install, set and use the machine to minimise noise emission.
  • if, despite all efforts to reduce noise at source and by protective measures, there remains a risk to hearing, provide information about appropriate hearing protection.

As well as supplying sound pressure levels for similar machinery under normal operation, manufacturers should provide information to ‘residual noise risk’.  You can address residual risk in any effective way, e.g. provision of noise levels likely to be found in normal use.

Manufacturers should also provide information on safe use if the machine has to be installed, used or set in a particular way to avoid unnecessary noise. Noise control measures may be optional if normal use of the machine produces low noise levels, but should be included where foreseeable uses of the machine will produce high noise levels.

If hearing protection is required, manufacturers should provide guidance on suitable performance characteristics. For most machinery, a ‘single number rating’ value may be provided. However, other information may be required if the noise is very loud, is low frequency or if there are peak noises to be controlled.

Reduce your effort to manage noise risk by identifying and buying quieter machinery

What you should do when buying work equipment

Consider the effects of noise. First, make a shortlist of equipment that appears generally suitable for the job, then consider noise along with the other factors that will influence your final decision.

Your positive noise-reduction purchasing policy could involve:

  • preparing a machine specification. Draw your suppliers’ attention to the requirements of the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992 (see Part 4). Introduce your own company noise limit, i.e. a realistic low-noise emission level that you are prepared to accept from incoming plant and equipment given your circumstances and planned machine use;
  • comparing the noise information declared by the manufacturer to identify low-noise machines;
  • requiring a statement from all companies who are tendering or supplying, saying if their machinery will meet your company noise limit specification;
  • discussing noise issues with the supplier of the machine. When considering noise, you should:
    • ask about likely noise levels for your intended use(s);
    • check that manufacturers’ noise data is representative of likely noise levels for your intended use(s);
    • ask if particular uses of the tools or machines are likely to cause unusually high noise;
    • be aware that, even where manufacturers declare that their tools or machines produce less than 70dB (the lowest level for which emission figures must be reported), noise levels may sometimes be much greater in your workplace.
  • where it is necessary to purchase noisy machinery, keeping a record of the reasons for decisions made to help with the preparation of future machine specifications with information on where improvements are necessary;
  • using an agreed format for the presentation of results by suppliers
  • discussing your machinery needs and noise emission levels with your safety or employee representatives.

You shouldn’t need to check the details of how noise control has been achieved. Instead, compare the noise information from the performance characteristics tables in the sales literature for the machines you are considering and find out which machines have the lowest reported noise. Noise a little higher than the quietest available (say up to 3dB) may be acceptable if the noise risk can be managed and higher noise machines offer other health or safety benefits that make them safer overall.

Manufacturers’ noise data will not always represent the actual noise in your workplace as noise might be increased by neighbouring machines and by reflected noise. Some noise test codes do not specify realistic operating conditions, but do allow you to compare the performance of similar equipment tested to the same noise emission standard.

HSE is encouraging manufacturers to develop realistic noise test codes to improve the quality of noise emission information.To make sure that standards are realistic and useful a range of stakeholders must be involved in this work. You could get involved in standards development for the products you use.

The manufacturer can only give advice on their machine. You must consider the noise of other machines in your workplace and check that recommended hearing protection is sufficient.

Many employees are exposed to noise from multiple sources, so initially the benefits of quieter equipment may be masked until other noisy machines are replaced with more quiet machinery.

If you buy new equipment and noise information is not provided in the instruction book (or was not in the technical sales literature) please inform HSE at Buy.Quiet@hse.gov.uk. You will need to provide equipment model number and address of manufacturer and supplier.

Making sense of noise information

Before making your final decision on noise, you must be satisfied that the comparative noise information has been measured in the same way for each of the machines you are considering. The supplier should be able to tell you what noise test code was used (including the date) in the instruction manual – either alongside the noise information or on the certificate of conformity.

Manufacturers provide noise emission information according to the Supply of Machinery Regulations 2008 and its associated harmonised European (EN) Standards. Under these regulations, manufacturers of work equipment are required to report up to three types of noise data:

  1. Sound power level
  2. Sound pressure level
  3. Peak sound pressure level

These noise levels should be supplemented with information on any steps you need to take to manage the risk of hearing damage.

How to use manufacturers’ data to estimate your need to control noise risk.

To manage your employees’ exposure to noise, your main interest will usually be in the ‘sound pressure level’ at the operator’s head position during the machine/tool’s normal operating conditions.

If a ‘peak sound pressure level’ is quoted, this alerts you to the need to manage risk of instantaneous hearing damage from high-level impulsive noise.

You can compare ‘sound power levels’ from different machines of the same type. HSE advises rejection of those machines with unusually high reported sound power levels.

You should also be given other helpful information about noise. For example, if the ‘noise test code’ is known to produce information that misrepresents risk – i.e. the noise emission is known to be usually higher than reported according to the standard test – then there is residual risk (as defined in the Supply of Machinery Regulations 2008) and this must be addressed e.g. by providing noise levels likely to be found in normal use.

Manufacturers provide noise emission information according to the Machinery Directive and its supplementary EN Standards.

The HSE Buy Quiet data checker helps you compare noise values for up to 5 machines on your short-list using each manufacturers' declared sound pressure level at the operator position, sound power level, and peak sound pressure level data (supplied when above 130 dBC). It helps you review the quality of the noise data provided by manufacturers. For example, it helps you decide if the sound pressure level and sound power level from any one manufacturer are likely to be reliable and to spot anomalies in the data provided by competing manufacturers.

Standards are under constant review. This checker will be updated annually in April to reflect standards changes in the previous year. Make sure that you use the most up-to-date version of the data checker.

Note: Actual noise levels within a workplace are affected by many variables that are not included in this data checker. This data checker will only produce indicative values to help you choose suitable equipment. It is not intended to take the place of a proper noise risk assessment as required by the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

We are very interested to hear your feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of this data checker.

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) provides advice on setting up a Buy-Quiet programme in your business or agency and offers an online process tool with several forms and worksheets that you may find helpful. The principles are the same as those advocated in the HSE calculator but there is more detail. 

Update 2012-12-18