What you need to do...
The law aims to reduce the risk of hearing damage caused by exposure to loud noise. Employers are required to assess the risks, take action to reduce noise exposure, provide workers with hearing protection where noise cannot be reduced by other methods, and make sure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded.
The law also aims to protect workers from the risks to health from exposure to vibration. The key issues are:
What you need to know...
Exposure to high noise levels can cause permanent hearing damage, often without the sufferer being aware of it until it is too late. It may lead to tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or deafness. Noise can also be a safety hazard at work, interfering with communication and making warnings harder to hear.
Employers must provide their workers with information, instruction and training and, in certain circumstances, carry out health surveillance. Employees and the self-employed also have legal duties to protect themselves against noise.
Noise action and limit values
Noise is measured in decibels (dB). The action levels are defined in terms of daily noise exposure (the daily average) and peak noise exposure (sudden noises).
The lower exposure action values are 80 dB for daily exposure and 135 dB for peak noise.
The upper exposure action levels are 85 dB for daily exposure and 137 dB for peak noise.
The limits, which must not be exceeded, are 87 dB for daily exposure and 140 dB for peak noise.
- exposure to many different sources of noise (eg tractors, chainsaws, grain dryers and guns) has a cumulative effect and can cause damage, even though you may only be exposed to a single source for short periods of time;
- intensively housed animals can create noise levels above the action levels. Pigs at feeding time can create levels of 100 dB or more.
The best way to protect against noise is to control it at source. Get noise levels assessed by a competent person and keep a record. To reduce exposure:
- choose quiet machines or processes when selecting production methods or new machines;
- enclose noisy machines or processes with sound-insulating panels, or put them in separate rooms. Fit silencers on exhaust systems;
- reduce the need to work in intensive animal housing at feeding times;
- reduce the duration of exposure by job rotation, providing a noise refuge, or arranging the work so that no one needs to be in the noisy area;
- provide workers with hearing protection if they ask for it and their exposure is between the lower and upper exposure action values;
- where exposures reach 85 dB or higher, mark these areas as 'hearing protection zones' with signs to show that hearing protection must be worn;
- make sure operators in noisy areas wear hearing protection, and tell them about the risks to their hearing.
If any of your workers think their hearing is being affected, suggest they take medical advice and consider regular hearing checks.
- hearing protection should be the last resort to control noise exposure;
- whether you use ear muffs, plugs or inserts, you will only get the assumed protection if they are in good condition, the correct size and worn properly;
- to be effective, hearing protection needs to be worn all the time that people are in noisy places. If it is left off for even short periods, the amount of protection will be severely limited and it will not protect hearing;
- maintenance of machines and changes in work methods can affect noise levels.
Typical noise levels
The diagram shows typical noise levels associated with agricultural work activities.