Prolonged and excessive exposure to noise results in long term harm to your hearing. This is irreversible, once you lose your hearing that's it - its gone! It accelerates the normal hearing loss we get as we grow older and can cause a permanent sensation of ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus. Less-obvious side effects such as increased pulse rate, blood pressure and breathing rate indicate that noise (and vibration) causes stress.
Noise is measured in decibels (dB). An increase of 3 dB doubles the noise, so what might seem a small difference in noise level may be a large difference in exposure. If the noise is so loud that you have to raise your voice to speak to someone 2 metres away, it may be loud enough to damage your hearing.
Removing and repairing body panels using pneumatic tools can be noisy work: air saws and chisels can typically produce levels as high as 107 dB(A) and grinders and orbital sanders 97 dB(A). Noise levels from panel beating and other repair operations using hand tools are variable but generally high; noise from work with sheet metal is often around 93 dB(A). Welding and flamecutting can also be noisy, and paint spraying has been measured at 93 dB(A). If workers were exposed to these noise levels through the day they would be well in excess of the specified Action Levels in the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.
HSE's online exposure calculator can be used to estimate if any employee's exposure is likely be at or above 80 dB(A) throughout the day. If it is, then an assessment needs to be carried out by a competent person. When exposure exceeds 85 dB(A), you will have to take increased action to eliminate and/or control exposure.
The 80 dB(A) and 85 dB(A) exposure action values are likely to be exceeded where bodywork is a regular daily activity and where pneumatic tools are used even for short periods. Using an air saw to remove panels for as little as six minutes can mean the user's total daily personal noise exposure will exceed 85 dB(A). Using an air sander for 45 minutes can give the user a daily personal noise exposure of more than 90 dB(A), as well as causing significant exposure to others nearby.
For exposures above 85 decibels, you should
- Reduce exposure to as low a level as reasonably practicable through organisational and technical measures [for example selecting quiet tools, separate noisy work to reduce numbers exposed to noise]
- Provide hearing protection and ensure it is used (employees have a duty to wear the protection provided)
- Demarcate hearing protection zones – ensure no one enters unless wearing hearing protection
- Provide health surveillance (ie audiometric hearing checks)
Controlling workplace noise
To control workplace noise you need to:
- get suppliers of machinery and equipment to specify noise levels at operators' positions;
- choose quieter machines and/or equipment, eg dampened grinding discs, silenced air compressors and enclosures, silenced air tools etc;
- isolate bodywork repairs in a mobile PVC strip curtain enclosure and/or in separate rooms etc;
- use industry good practice to reduce workplace noise, eg using magnetic n mats, sandbags, bracing bodywork etc when body prepping.
Selection and use of hearing protection
Employers should provide hearing protection that at least reduces noise exposure to below 85 dB(A), but reducing the level of noise to below 70 dB(A) at the ear should be avoided. Check this using the manufacturer's performance data and HSE's online hearing protection calculator.
In particular, employers should:
- provide employees with hearing protectors, if they ask for them and their noise exposure is between the lower (80dBA) and upper (85dBA) exposure action values;
- provide employees with hearing protectors and make sure they use them properly when their noise exposure exceeds the upper (85dBA)exposure action values;
- identify hearing protection zones, ie areas where the use of hearing protection is compulsory, and mark them with signs if possible;
- provide employees with training and information on how to use and care for the hearing protectors;
- ensure that the hearing protectors are properly used and maintained.