Loud noise at work can damage your hearing. This usually happens gradually and it may only be when the damage caused by noise combines with hearing loss due to ageing that people realise how impaired their hearing has become.
A risk assessment revealed that the noise level at the operator’s position of a metal cutting guillotine was very high, at 92 decibels (dB).
After taking technical advice, the employers ensured the guillotine was fully serviced and its hydraulics overhauled. In addition, a collecting tray was fitted with rollers and covered with carpet, to reduce the impact of falling offcut metal.
As a result, the noise level at the operator’s position was reduced by 8 dB to 84 dB.
Noise at work can cause hearing damage that is permanent and disabling. This can be gradual, from exposure to noise over time, but damage can also be caused by sudden, extremely loud, noises. The damage is disabling in that it can stop people being able to understand speech, keep up with conversations or use the telephone.
Hearing loss is not the only problem. People may develop tinnitus (ringing, whistling, buzzing or humming in the ears), a distressing condition which can lead to disturbed sleep.
Noise at work can interfere with communications and make warnings harder to hear. It can also reduce a person’s awareness of his or her surroundings. These factors can lead to safety risks – putting people at risk of injury or death.
Situations where you will need to consider safety issues in relation to noise include where:
There are many ways of reducing noise and noise exposure. Nearly all businesses can decide on practical, cost-effective actions to control noise risks, if necessary by looking at the advice available (eg HSE's noise at work website).
First, think about how to remove the source of noise altogether, for example housing a noisy machine where it cannot be heard by workers. If that is not possible, investigate:
A woman working in the textiles industry only realised something needed to be done about her hearing loss when, at the age of 40, she couldn’t hear the phone ringing any more.
Such hearing loss could have been prevented in the short term with hearing protection. In the longer term, other ways of reducing exposure included quieter machines, maintenance, and changing job patterns.
You should consider noise alongside other factors (eg general suitability, efficiency) when hiring or buying equipment. You should compare the noise data from different machines, as this will help you to buy from among the quieter ones.
Hearing protection should be issued to employees:
You should not use hearing protection as an alternative to controlling noise by technical and organisational means.
Employees to whom you provide hearing protection should receive training in how to use it.
If the risk assessment indicates that there is a risk to health for employees exposed to noise, they should be placed under suitable health surveillance (regular hearing checks).
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 require employers to take action to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from noise at work.