Construction Noise: Inspection and Enforcement Guidance
This OG provides guidance applying the EMM for construction noise risks. It focuses on common issues and high-risk activities, prioritising those with the potential for significant exposure/risk of ill-health.
Noise is a commonly encountered health topic for Inspectors. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (CNAWR) 2006 is the primary legislation governing this issue. This guidance assists Inspectors in reaching proportionate enforcement decisions to control and manage construction noise risks.
High noise exposure can cause permanent and disabling hearing damage. Noise induced hearing loss is the second most common reason for occupational health-related employers' liability insurance claims. Construction workers are three times more likely to report problems with their hearing related to work.
Note: This OG deals with auditory risks from noise and does not cover other non auditory health risks that can arise from noise such as stress and cardiovascular effects.
Inspectors should assess on-site noise control and management measures for high-risk activities against the control standards set out in this OG against the 'duty holder standards' set out in other HSE guidance. Inspectors should give priority to preventing the risk (ie elimination and control) over relying on the provision of personal hearing protection and arrangements for managing the symptoms of noise induced hearing loss (ie health surveillance). Focus should be particularly on those high-risk activities and common issues where inadequate controls can result in an extreme or substantial risk gap under the EMM. This guidance sets out the steps Inspectors should take to assess the risks and apply the EMM. It also advises on the initial enforcement expectation (IEE) according to the level of control found relative to the expected control standard.
Step 1: Determine risk
Inspectors should consider the work activities to establish the nature of the hazard and the level of the risk present on site. The information to consider is set out in Appendix 1. Gathering and recording this information is important for supporting any subsequent action taken.
Step 2: Dealing with immediate risk
Some activities can expose workers to noise levels that are sufficient to create a risk of a serious health effect. These activities are set out in Appendix 3. Inspectors should deal with these situations as a priority to ensure the continuing high risk is prevented / effectively controlled (eg by issuing a PN).
Step 3: Dealing with other matters through the EMM
Where inadequate control is found in less urgent/serious situations, Inspectors should determine the risk gap and IEE using the Enforcement Management Model (EMM). The basis for applying the EMM to Construction noise is explained in Appendix 2. Inspectors should focus on the high-risk activities set out in Appendix 3. The noise control described in the tables in Appendix 3 have been established as good practice and will generally be reasonably practicable, depending on local circumstances. The EMM has been used to determine the IEE for deficiencies in control for high-risk activities (Appendix 3). The IEE has also been determined for management arrangements (Appendix 4). Dutyholder and strategic factors should be applied as normal.
Step 4: Enforcement action
The emphasis for enforcement of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations should be to secure elimination of risk from noise, or reduction of exposure and risk to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP), by organisational and technical measures, where exposures are likely to exceed the upper exposure action value. Enforcement of regulation 6(2) will usually be appropriate, together with enforcement of Reg 7 to 10 as required.
Notices should be in accordance with the EMM, Enforcement Policy Statement and the information in this document. In some cases, both a PN and IN may be served to deal with the same set of circumstances – the former to stop a continuing high risk of serious personal injury and the latter to secure longer-term compliance.
Proactive prosecutions should be considered where:
- Well established control strategies are completely inadequate (eg no or wholly ineffective) AND
- There has been a sustained and very significant risk to workers health (eg regularly doing higher risk tasks without any or wholly ineffective controls)
Furthermore, prosecution should be considered where the CNAWR sets a defined standard for risk control measures (ie where the duty is not qualified by 'reasonably practicable'), and this standard has not been met. Examples of this include where suitable personal hearing protection has not been supplied to employees whose daily/weekly personal noise exposure is likely to be at or above the upper exposure action values, or where there had been a failure to maintain personal hearing protection or anything provided for purposes of noise control. It is advisable that a Noise and Vibration Specialist Inspector is consulted if prosecution is proposed.
Note: Always discuss any enforcement on quality of health surveillance provision with an Occupational Health Inspector before taking action. If it is absent and exposure above the upper action value then consultation is not necessary.
The construction industry has high levels of ill-health. Exposure to noise contributes significantly to this. Construction noise consists of background noise from noisy plant, material movements, or traffic; direct or indirect noise exposure from tool and process noise from use of power tools or piling for example and impulse or impact noises from pile driving, pneumatic nail guns, explosions.
Duties of employers under the CNAWR are dependent upon the daily (or weekly) personal noise exposure or the peak sound exposure of employees and, sometimes, upon other evidence of risk from noise.
Regular and frequent exposure to high noise levels can cause hearing loss, leading to communication problems, and other auditory problems such as tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears) and sensitivity to loud noises (hyperacusis). Many of these conditions are irreversible; all are disabling. Construction workers have a high risk of harm because many common tasks can create high noise levels if not adequately controlled.
This OG assists Inspectors in reaching proportionate enforcement decisions. It focuses on high risk tasks, prioritising those with the potential for significant exposure.
Note: This guidance deals mainly with daily (or weekly) personal exposure. Any concerns relating to the peak sound exposure should be discussed with a Noise and Vibration Specialist Inspector. .
There are no special organisational requirements.
Inspectors should pay particular attention to:
- Information on noise contained within the health section of the construction web site
- CNAWR guidance
- FAQs on construction noise
Staff should also be aware of and familiar with other relevant Operational Guidance. In particular:
- Enforcement Management Model – General guidance on application to health risks
- The noise section of the HSE website
Inspectors may also find the following external guidance of use
Construction Sector - Health Risk Management Unit